Illinois Free Legal Advice?

No, I am in no more of a position to give free legal advice, than is any other attorney – or a carpenter to build you a free shed – but certain people can acquire free legal advice if they qualify.

Public Defenders in Illinois are lawyers paid for by county governments to represent defendants in criminal court. They only are assigned to cases in which the defendant is in jeopardy of serving jail time. So you cannot be appointed a Public Defender if you have a speeding ticket, but you maybe can if you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.

If you are charged with an offense for which you could go to jail, the judge will ask you at your first appearance before the court if you plan to hire a lawyer. He will ask whether you have the means or choose to hire your own lawyer, and if you do, no public defender will be appointed. If you tell the judge that you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, and can convince him or her of that fact, and you so choose, a public defender should be appointed.

But if you have an income that the judge believes is sufficient to hire a private attorney, she may suggest that you call a few lawyers to determine how much they would charge to take your case, so you and the court will know for sure whether you have the means to hire private counsel. Should the judge still believe your income is sufficient, he may determine that you should pay a nominal fair amount for your being represented by a Public Defender.

If your arrest was for DUI, a Public Defender can represent you before the local court on the criminal charge, but he is not paid by the county to represent you in an attempt to eliminate the suspension of your license that arose from the DUI arrest. We are talking apples and oranges here – the criminal DUI offense, and the license suspension are two separate matters. Public Defenders do not file petitions to eliminate DUI suspensions.

So far I have mentioned only one segment of the population that is eligible for free legal advice. There is the equivalency of Public Defenders available to help some people with non-criminal cases, such as evictions and divorces – The Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. Because their budget has been slashed for decades, they have the resources to help very few clients. Senior citizens, and Southern Illinoisans with very low incomes may be eligible for Land of Lincoln’s help. If they deny services to you, even if you are below the poverty level, the denial was not their preference. Our government leaves this honorable organization with just barely the funds to stay in business.

The SIU Legal Clinic at www.law.siu.edu/selfhelp offers information and guidance to help pro se (doing it yourself) litigants with a number of legal matters such as divorce, housing, name changes, expungement, children, wills, powers of attorney, guardianships, small claims, and immigration, to name a few. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you can depend that the information on the SIU website is correct and user friendly.

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