Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about the work of the Public Defender and using our services.
How do I get a Public Defender?
The Public Defender is appointed by a judge for people who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. At your first court appearance, the court will have you fill out an Affidavit of Assets and Liabilities to see if you are financially able to hire a private attorney. It is up to the judge to determine whether or not the Public Defender will be appointed. If you are in custody, the Public Defender is usually appointed unless private counsel has already been retained. If you have retained counsel but are unable to afford his or her continued representation, inform the court as soon as possible that you would like a Public Defender.
Can I speak with a Public Defender even though I already have an attorney?
No. Once you are represented by an attorney, the Public Defender cannot speak with you.
Can I speak with a Public Defender before my first court appearance?
The Public Defender can provide general information regarding the court process. We cannot discuss the specifics of your case until we are appointed.
Does the Public Defender handle only criminal cases?
The Public Defender provides representation in the following types of cases: misdemeanor, felony, paternity, traffic, domestic violence, juvenile delinquency, child protection, Post conviction and appeals. If you are being sued, have immigration problems, are being evicted from your home, have a worker’s compensation claim, want a divorce, etc., you may qualify for assistance from other agencies. We do not handle those types of cases. Possible agencies include:
- Chicago Bar Association Referral Service
- Chicago Volunteer Legal Aid Services Foundation
- Cook County Bar Association Referral Service
- Illinois Lawyer Referral Service
- Illinois Law Help
- Legal Assistant Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago
What should I do if my son or daughter is arrested by the police before an attorney is appointed?
Phone First Defense at 1-800-LAW-REP-4 (1-800-529-7374). This is a 24 hours a day, seven days a week hotline where lawyers are available to answer your questions. The service is free.
Is the Public Defender a real attorney?
Yes, Public Defenders are real attorneys just like the ones you go out and pay for. The only difference is the Public Defender is paid for by the taxpayers in Cook County.
What do I do if there is a warrant for my arrest?
If you are currently represented by an attorney inform him or her immediately. The attorney will help you to place your case on the courts calender to clear it up. If you do not have an attorney, call the Clerk’s Office at the court building where your case is being heard and find out which court issued the warrant. You will then need to either hire an attorney to take your case or you can go to the Clerks Office and motion your case up on your own for a fee. Bear in mind there are no guarantees that you will not be arrested or taken into custody on the warrant until you can appear in court.
There is usually a Public Defender available in court when you appear in front of the judge. If not, make a request for court appointed counsel. Depending on the severity of the matter there are several possibilities once you appear in court. The case might be resolved that day if it is a minor issue. You can also set the matter for further court proceedings.
The court will execute the warrant, set future dates, and either release you on your “own recognizance”(I Bond) or set bail. If bail is set, you will remain in custody until a bond is posted.
I was convicted of a crime a number of years ago. Can I get that conviction off my record?
We do not do expungements. An expungement is only one of the ways to remove a conviction off your record. You will need to contact the Clerk of Court Office nearest you to get information on how to get your record expunged.