In the United States, we have the right to a legal defense whether we can afford one or not. Kinda. The public defender system exists in the hopes of providing everybody with a shot at defending themselves in their legal matters, but it’s a woefully bad system.
You know the whole “if you cannot afford an attorney one will be provided for you”? bit of the miranda rights? The definition of being able to afford one if very narrow, and often you won’t be able to qualify. You have to be able to prove that you cannot afford a private attorney, and what qualifies as being unable is very narrow. It is incredibly easy to not be able to afford a lawyer, and making too much to qualify to receive a public defender. If you’re trapped in this “donut hole” I can only offer you my deepest sympathies.
There’s no clear cut threshold of what qualifies or doesn’t. I was given a rough outline once and completely dismissed the thought - and I was not making a lot of money at all.
As for the quality of the public defenders - this is a mixed bag. Some attorneys find they have a duty to give back, and volunteer their time with the public defenders office. These lawyers are exceptionally rare.
Most of the time public defenders are overworked lawyers just trying to make it to the end of the day. They have little time for your case, and little time for you. A private lawyer may not answer all of your emails or calls, but many they will, they will have an exponential amount of time for you.
It’s a terribly broken system. One so bad, that it gets a Jon Oliver clip: