In Illinois, Public Defenders are lawyers paid for by county governments to represent defendants in criminal court. They are only 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, 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 nominally 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 came 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.

Land of Lincoln Legal Aid provides free legal services for civil legal problems to low income persons in 65 counties in central and southern Illinois. They handle cases such as eviction, divorce, orders of protection, debt collection issues, and foreclosure. Because they have limited resources, they cannot handle every case. To find out whether you may be eligible, call their toll free intake and advice line at 877-342-7891 or visit their website at

The SIU Legal Clinic at 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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