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The right to counsel means more than a warm body with a law degree

Posted by Steven H. Fagan | Oct 29, 2013 | 0 Comments

A recent criminal case out of New Jersey shines a spotlight on criminal courtrooms in the Chicago area and all around the country, and that light is harsh.

Chicago Criminal Arrest

In State v. Terrence Miller, a lawyer was pushed into trial on the very day he met his client. He never had the chance to speak to witnesses, conduct an extensive review of the State's case, or do much of anything, really. It absolutely hurt the defendant.

Judges sometimes become frustrated with defendants they see as playing games, creating delays, constantly hiring and firing lawyers, waiting until the last minute, and in this case, literally the day of trial, to hire a criminal defense attorney. At the same time, Judges have a duty to protect the integrity of our legal justice system. That means ensuring that every single defendant facing criminal charges has the assistance of counsel. Not just having counsel, but having competent counsel. A warm body with a law degree doesn't cut it.

Criminal lawyers, be they public defenders or private attorneys, are also responsible for maintaining the integrity of the system. Their duty is to zealously defend their client. Even if they are guilty. Espescially if they are guilty. That doesn't always mean taking a case to trial, of course. Often, that's not in the best interests or desires of the client. But attorneys sometimes participate in a criminal trial they aren't equipped or prepared to litigate effectively, and that's hardly a way to protect the defendant, or the general integrity of the process.

Judges are not immune to public pressures. But they should be. After all, it is exceedingly rare for a Cook county Judge to lose an election for retention, and if they did, it wouldn't be for protecting the rights of a defendant facing serious criminal charges. This, by the way, is a key function of a sitting Judge. Of course the Judge is to referee the case impartially and without bias. Part of that must be to recognize that the Defendant is enormously overmatched. The typical Illinois criminal defendant doesn't have a legal education, or training, or experience with the rules and procedures of the Court.

Even if the defendant has the best Illinois criminal defense lawyer, he still faces a large law firm funded by the government, complete with a full investigative arm. If the prosecutor wants an investigation, he or she can call up the Detective working the case. In the case of the Cook County State's Attorney, they even have their own investigators.  They can pick up a phone and order up forensic analysis of DNA, drugs, blood, urine, fingerprints and more at their convenience, and use public funds to have an expert forensic scientist explain the results as needed. A Judge has to recognize this power imbalance, and ensure a defendant has a criminal defense attorney that has an appropriate amount of time to prepare and properly defend their client.

But before a Judge can ever act in that role, you should obtain the finest Chicago area DUI or criminal defense counsel available. If you face misdemeanor or felony criminal charges in Illinois, call Fagan, Fagan & Davis now at 847-635-8200.

About the Author

Steven H. Fagan

Steve Fagan earned his law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law, is a member of the NCDD, NACDL, ISBA and a founding member of the DUIDLA. He is published and has taught CLE for lawyers on subjects such as sex offenses, DUI and criminal defense, focuses on trial work and Real Estate closings


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