The title to this article comes from one of the most common questions I get asked by clients who call me to discuss their case. When I ask them what their question is, I’m frequently asked whether the client should have a lawyer for their case.
Many clients do not know the answer to that question because they don’t understand what the implications of a criminal case can be. Sometimes people don’t understand that what they are charged with is a crime. Yesterday I received a phone call from a client who was pulled over by a State Trooper and charged with driving 33 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. The client did not understand that what he was charged with was not a simple speeding ticket. In Illinois, if you are pulled over and charged with speeding 26 to 34 miles an hour over the posted speed limit, you will be charged with a Class B Misdemeanor. What he was being charged with is not a simple speeding ticket but an actual crime. A conviction for driving 26 to 34 miles an hour over the speed limit carries a possible jail sentence of up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,500. If you are charged with driving 35 miles an hour and over the posted speed limit, you will be charged with a Class A Misdemeanor. A Class A Misdemeanor for driving 35 miles an hour over the posted speed limit carries a possible jail sentence of up to one-year in County Jail and a maximum fine of $2,500. Clients who call me with cases like this are frequently surprised to find out that they are charged with an actual crime and not a mere speeding ticket.
Last week I spoke to another client who was charged with a Retail Theft. The client wanted to know whether contacting the store and paying for the items that were shoplifted would mean that the Retail Theft case would be dismissed. I explained to the client that paying the store for the value of the items that were stolen would not cause the criminal Retail Theft case to just go away. The criminal case involves the Prosecutor’s Office. Any decision made about whether the case will be dropped or dismissed is made by the Prosecutor’s and not the store owners or the store security.
If what you are being charged with carries the possibility of a jail sentence, you must have a lawyer. If you are charged with a crime and appear in Court without a lawyer, the judge will ask you if you have your own lawyer. If you do not have a lawyer you will be asked if you can afford to hire your own lawyer. If you cannot afford to hire your own lawyer, the judge will inquire about your financial condition. The judge will ask you what your income is and what your expenses are. In some courthouses and some counties, the judge will have you fill out an Affidavit of Assets and Liabilities. In other counties and courthouses, the judge may just ask you a series of questions in Court to determine whether you can afford to hire a lawyer. If the judge determines that you can afford to hire your own lawyer, the judge will continue your case and tell you to come back to Court with a lawyer. If the judge determines that you cannot afford to hire your own lawyer, the judge will appoint a Public Defender to represent you.
A common misunderstanding from prospective clients is that they believe the decision about whether to hire a private lawyer or get a Public Defender is theirs. The judge has the sole authority to determine whether you will get a Public Defender. You cannot call the Public Defender’s office before Court to get a consultation. The Public Defender will become your lawyer once the judge appoints the Public Defender to be your attorney. A Public Defender will be appointed only after the judge determines that you cannot afford to hire your own lawyer. If a Public Defender is appointed to be your lawyer, you cannot get to pick and choose which lawyer in the Public Defender’s office will be your lawyer. Usually, the Public Defender that will be working on your case will be whoever is assigned to your Courtroom on that particular day and time. It is not uncommon to find out that a new Public Defender will be handling your case the next time you come to Court.
If you cannot afford to hire your own lawyer and do not want the Public Defender to represent you, you have the constitutional right to be your own lawyer and represent yourself in Court. Being your own lawyer is usually not a wise choice, you do have that right. If you choose to represent yourself, you need to understand that you will be held to the same standards as a lawyer. You will not get any special breaks or any special treatment in Court just because you are not a lawyer. If you decide to represent yourself, the judge will go through a long series of questions and warnings to make sure that you know what you are doing and that you understand the implications of representing yourself. The judge will tell you that the prosecutor on the other side of the case is an experienced criminal defense attorney and that you will be held to the same standards as a regular lawyer even though you have no legal training or legal experience.
James Dimeas is a nationally-recognized, award-winning, criminal defense lawyer with over-27 years of experience handling criminal cases throughout Chicago, Cook County, DuPage County, Kane County, and Lake County, Illinois. Attorney and Practice Magazine gave James Dimeas its “Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorney Award for Illinois.” The National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys gave James Dimeas its “Top 10 Attorney Award for the State of Illinois.” The American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys named James Dimeas a “10 Best Attorney for Client Satisfaction.” The American Society of Legal Advocates named James Dimeas a “Top 100 Criminal Defense Lawyer in the State of Illinois For the Year 2018 and 2019.” James Dimeas was named a “Best DUI Attorney.” Expertise named James Dimeas a “Best Criminal Defense Lawyer in Chicago.” The National Trial Lawyers named James Dimeas a “Top 100 Criminal Defense Trial Lawyer.” AVVO rates James Dimeas as “Superb”, the highest rating possible for any criminal defense attorney in the United States.
If you are facing criminal charges you can always contact James Dimeas anytime for a free and confidential consultation. You can always speak to James Dimeas personally by calling him at 847-807-7405.
What Happens at a Preliminary Hearing in Illinois, by James G. Dimeas, Chicago Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 23, 2017.
Can The Police Arrest Me Without Any Evidence in Illinois, by James G. Dimeas, Chicago Criminal Lawyer Blog, July, 3, 2017.