If I Didn't Do It, Why Do I Need a Lawyer?
Speak with a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney If You're Facing a Criminal Prosecution
Oftentimes, television shows about lawyers are not correct or realistic. But sometimes the interactions between lawyers and clients are right on target. For example, take a recent TV episode in which an attorney was talking to a prospective client and his wife. The would-be client insisted that he was innocent of the charges against him and asserted that he didn’t want to involve a lawyer "because it will make me look guilty" to which the lawyer replied, "No, being arrested makes you look guilty." While this was meant to be funny, it was in reality a fair characterization of a conversation that many in the legal profession have had with potential clients. It seems that some people still believe that if they are innocent, they do not need a lawyer to defend them in court because the judge will just know. But in real life, nothing could be further from the truth.
"Maybe I Can Talk the Police out of It"
Let us suppose that you are being investigated for an alleged criminal offense, and although you are completely innocent of the crime, you are being summoned into a police station to talk with officers or detectives. If you think that you can "talk your way out of" the investigation, think again. The police have not brought you to their turf to serve you tea and cookies while they politely ask you your side of the story. Whether you wish to believe it or not, you have somehow become the focus of an investigation. They have brought you there to obtain statements from you to be used in a prosecution against you. You can be sure that any and all information you provide them will be investigated with an eye towards discrediting you and to further the goal of prosecuting you.
Without a lawyer to advise you and to assert and protect your Constitutional rights, you could unwittingly aid the prosecution by allowing them to undercut what might have been your defense. In more extreme circumstances, police investigators have been known to cause innocent people to incriminate themselves in ways they wouldn’t have ever imagined. Imagine being questioned for hours at length, having your free will reduced to rubble and then confessing to a crime you did not commit. It happens every day.
You Have the Right to an Attorney
Imagine that you have been arrested and charged with a crime for which you know you are absolutely innocent, but because your claims of innocence fell upon deaf ears at the station, you must now go to court. As a criminal case defendant, you have an absolute right to be represented by an attorney on any offense for which you may receive a jail sentence. If you do not have a Chicago defense attorney with you when you make your initial appearance before a judge, the judge will in all likelihood warn you of the possible penalties in your case and the need to have an attorney. Of course, if you cannot afford an attorney you may request a public defender be appointed for you and if you are found to be without sufficient means to hire your own attorney, one will be so appointed. But if you are employed or otherwise able to hire an attorney in the court’s view, you will likely be told to come back at the next court date with your lawyer.
If you continue to come back to court repeatedly without a lawyer the judge may lose patience and this may have an adverse effect on your relationship with the judge. Some Judges will allow you multiple continuances to hire an attorney, but most will not. If the Judge denies you any further continuances and directs you to represent yourself, you will be at a supreme disadvantage in that the prosecutor is well educated in the law and you are not. The Judge is not going to give you any assistance whatsoever and you will be held to the same standard as the prosecutor when it comes to presenting your case in court. Thus, you should make every effort to hire an attorney to carry the fight for you in court from the very start.
Potential Problems with Representing Yourself
Of course, you may be permitted to represent yourself if after inquiring into your education and experience, and after carefully informing you of the perils and pitfalls involved, the Court is of the opinion that the decision to waive counsel was made freely, voluntarily and knowingly. Keep in mind, however, what we just said above, that if you represent yourself, you will be held to the same legal standards as a licensed attorney. In other words, you will be presumed to have knowledge of the rules of evidence, the rules of criminal procedure and the case law relevant to your case. You will be given no assistance or leeway by the court. If you make a mistake, no one can help you easily fix it afterwards.
This is true across the board, for any type of criminal case from a petty traffic offense, all the way up to first degree murder. Depending upon the type of case, be it a minor traffic offense, a local ordinance violation, a criminal misdemeanor or a felony, there are rules of court procedure which are referred to as Supreme Court Rules, that govern the proceedings. You must have knowledge of these rules and you will be expected to abide by them or suffer the consequences. For example, in traffic cases, there are rules that govern the initial setting of a court date by either the officer or the clerk of the court; there are rules regarding the right to a hearing on the initial court date, and there are even rules that dictate how much time the police have to file their complaints with the clerk of the court. Knowledge of these rules may or may not affect the outcome of your case.
In criminal cases, there are rules regarding what we call Discovery, and what other jurisdictions call Disclosure, and knowing these rules can be the difference between unnecessarily exposing information that could harm your case, or even worse, failing to disclose that which was required and then being barred from using it in court in your own defense. Imagine you had an alibi defense to a felony charge, but because you failed to name a key witness in your answer to discovery, the court is now barring you from calling that witness in your defense at trial.
Trials are governed by the Rules of Evidence, which exist at both the Federal and State level. Illinois has their own rules of evidence, which in large part follows the Federal rules, but in the areas where it diverges, it makes a huge difference regarding how attempting to use the evidence in court will likely play out. The prosecutor knows the Rules of Evidence, will you? Literal reading of the written rules is not enough, you must also be aware of the prior cases that have decided how the rules work and the best way to argue how that applies to (or is distinguishable from) your case.
If you are found guilty, or if you plead guilty, you will be expected to present evidence and/or arguments on your behalf at the sentencing hearing. There are statutes that govern what is considered factors in aggravation, as well as factors in mitigation. Attorneys must know each of these factors and how they apply or do not apply to your case. Will you?
Experienced Criminal Attorneys to Help You Navigate Unfamiliar Waters
If your plumbing were to go haywire and your pipes were bursting, would you try and fix them yourself or would you hire a plumber? If your electric wiring were to short out, wouldn’t you hire an electrician rather than risk your safety trying to repair it yourself? If you were seriously ill, wouldn’t you go to a doctor for diagnosis and treatment? So, if you are facing criminal charges or are being investigated, wouldn’t it make good sense to hire a lawyer who has the education, training, skill, and experience to assist you in your hour of need?
Of course, it does. If the criminal court is a raging river, your case is a boat on the water, and you are a Captain who is unfamiliar with that stretch of river, then your lawyer is the Ship’s Pilot, whose job it is to successfully navigate those choppy waters and bring your boat to port safely. Try and navigate your ship on unfamiliar waters, unaware of the dangers below the surface and you may very well sink.
When you are facing a criminal prosecution, either after being charged or while still under investigation, you need a knowledgeable, aggressive legal team like the lawyers at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC. We will fight for your rights throughout Illinois. With offices in Arlington Heights and Chicago, we are ready to assist you in your time of need. Call us today at (312) 644-0444 to schedule an in-person, confidential, absolutely free consultation.
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