Most of the women in the Camp were poor, poorly educated, and came from neighborhoods where the mainstream economy was barely present and the narcotics trade provided the most opportunities for employment. Their typical offenses were for things like low-level dealing, allowing their apartments to be used for drug activity, serving as couriers, and passing messages, all for low wages. Small involvement in the drug trade could land you in prison for many years, especially if you had a lousy court-appointed lawyer. Even if you had a great Legal Aid lawyer, he or she was guaranteed to have a staggering caseload and limited resources for your defense. It was hard for me to believe that the nature of our crimes was what accounted for my fifteen-month sentence versus some of my neighbors much lengthier ones. I had my fantastic private attorney and a country-club suit to go with my blond bob.
- Piper Kerman, Orange Is The New Black
I'd be curious to know what people think about this quote. I'll say this—I don't doubt that most court appointed lawyers have very high case loads and are often overwhelmed. I can see why Piper values her high priced private lawyer vs. people with limited means who either take a free lawyer initially or until their finances are exhausted. But I'd say that working in courts (and also working with other court clinicians, attorneys, judges, etc), we sometimes would prefer court appointed lawyers, who often knew the lay of the land more, had more credibility with judges, knew better how to use court resources (like us in the court clinic and we could be a mitigating force to allow their clients to use rehabilitative services rather than just punitive services) and generally kind of knew when and what to argue and in front of whom. I have sat in hundreds of cases and got used to seeing private lawyers fuck up bc they had an overreaching argument in front of the wrong judge and their client got into more hot water than they would with someone who is a more familiar face. However, we were a district court—I've met a few people who had federal cases and it's a different culture.
So my lawyer and otherwise court experienced (and opinionated) posters, what do you think? Are private lawyers always better? Do they account for the relatively light sentences of the wealthy or do other factors weigh in more heavily?