Court Appointed Attorneys

Persons charged with criminal offenses which carry with them the possibility of jail have a constitutional right to a court appointed lawyer if they cannot afford their own attorney. If you have been charged with a “jailable” offense, and you believe you cannot pay for a private attorney, you can ask the judge in your case to appoint a lawyer to represent you. In Illinois, such attorneys are called “public defenders.” Make your request on the first court date or as soon as you know you can not afford to pay a lawyer.  The request can be made later, for example, when you think you will be retaining a private attorney, but discover, after speaking with one, that you cannot afford one. 

Application for a court appointed attorney is ordinarily made in open court by filling out a request for representation, which is then reviewed by the judge. By law, local courts can charge you a fee to defray the costs of the public defender, but cannot condition the representation on your paying money up front if you don’t have it. In DeKalb County, the fee assessed for a public defender is currently $250, payable in installments. 

The judge will not appoint a public defender if he or she concludes that you have the financial resources to retain an attorney. Be aware that you do not have a right to a court appointed attorney if the offense for which you are charged carries only the possibility of a fine, as is true of most traffic offenses and city ordinance violations. It is also possible, though not probable, that the prosecutor will waive jail as a possible penalty in your case. If that happens, the constitutional right to court appointed counsel does not apply.