A public defender is a lawyer who has passed the bar and who works for the government in criminal defense. They are charged with representing criminal defendants who cannot afford to pay for a private attorney. Public defenders are paid by the government and are staff attorneys of a public defender service. However, while they are paid by the local, state, or federal government, they legally represent the interests of the client they’ve been assigned. If you can’t afford to hire an attorney, they could represent you.

Illinois has a Public Defender Association. The goals of the association are to continue educating public defenders in the state and encourage an exchange of ideas by court-appointed counsel in all counties. Recently, the association has begun efforts to establish caseload standards for public defenders. This is to ensure defendants are adequately represented by attorneys who have enough time to understand the details of each case.

How Can I Get a Public Defender?

Under the Constitution of the United States, the state cannot prosecute a defendant who cannot afford an attorney, unless the state provides them with an attorney. A defendant cannot choose the public defender they want to employ. Usually, the judge will appoint a public defense office to represent an individual who cannot afford a private attorney.

Your first court appearance is called an arraignment. The purpose of this court appearance is to find out how the defendant wishes to plead: guilty or not guilty. If you cannot afford an attorney, notify the court. You will fill out an Affidavit of Assets and Liabilities. This form will help the court determine whether you are financially capable of hiring a private lawyer.

The judge uses this information to determine whether a public defender can be appointed to your case. After your arrest, if you remain in custody, the court appoints a public defender to represent you at your arraignment. If you have retained private counsel, then the public defender will not represent you. If you have a private attorney, you may not also have a public defender.

Public Defenders Work on Specific Types of Cases

A public defenders’ job is to protect the legal rights of someone who has been charged with a crime but cannot afford an attorney. This can include a misdemeanor, felony, child molestation, domestic violence, or a traffic offense. People who are being sued, have been evicted from their home, want a divorce, or are experiencing immigration issues, cannot use a public defender.

If you know there has been a warrant issued for your arrest, you should contact your Chicago criminal defense attorney immediately. Your defense lawyer will help get your case on the court’s calendar. If you do not have an attorney, the clerk’s office at the court building can walk you through the process of getting your case scheduled.

However, there is no guarantee that while you’re waiting to appear in court, you won’t also be arrested. You can also make a request for a court-appointed counsel at the clerk’s office.

Public Defenders Use Vertical or Horizontal Representation

When you are represented by a private attorney, you usually have the same attorney from the beginning of your case during the arraignment to the end when your case is either dropped, negotiated, or goes to trial. However, public defender offices do not always work this way.

In some instances, public defenders are assigned to a defendant’s case from beginning to end. This is called vertical representation. In many cases, a defendant may have multiple public defenders who handle their case from start to finish.

This happens when the public defense office has attorneys who specialize in different aspects of a case. For example, one public defender may handle the arraignment, another may negotiate with the prosecutor, and a third may take the case to trial. This is called horizontal representation.

This often results in the defendant feeling as if they do not have good communication with their defense attorney as the case moves throughout the process. In a good public defenders’ office, each lawyer will make clear notations in the file so the next attorney can quickly get up to speed on the progress of the case.

However, since the client load is often heavy and multiple public defenders may be handling a single case, details can fall through the cracks.

Call the Chicago Criminal Defense Lawyers at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC for Experienced Representation

Public defenders work hard and are often overwhelmed with their caseload. Although they try, it is difficult to give each case the attention needed to adequately represent your interests in court.

A conviction can affect your ability to get a loan, rent an apartment, get a job, and your relationships. Don’t rest your future on the shoulders of an overworked and under-resourced public defender’s office. Instead, call the experienced and compassionate attorneys at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC today. Schedule your free case evaluation by calling (312) 644-0444 or contacting us online.