Public Defender Frequently Asked Questions

    The Public Defender is appointed by a judge for people who cannot afford to hire a private attorney.

    • At your first court appearance, the court will have you fill out an Affidavit of Assets and Liabilities to see if you are financially able to hire a private attorney.
    • It is up to the judge to determine whether or not the Public Defender will be appointed.
    • If you are in custody, the Public Defender is usually appointed unless private counsel has already been hired.
    • If you have retained a private attorney but are unable to afford his or her continued representation, inform the court as soon as possible that you would like a Public Defender.

    No. Once you are represented by a private attorney, the Public Defender cannot speak with you.

    The Public Defender can provide general information regarding the court process.

    We cannot discuss the specifics of your case until we are appointed.

    The Public Defender provides representation in the following types of cases: misdemeanor, felony, paternity, traffic, domestic violence, juvenile delinquency, child protection, certain immigration cases, post-conviction and appeals.

    If you are being sued, are being evicted from your home, have a worker’s compensation claim, want a divorce, etc., you may qualify for assistance from other agencies. We do not handle those types of cases.

    • Click here for a list of free and low-cost legal assistance resources.
    • Click here for information about our Immigration Unit Pilot, which handles certain immigration cases.

    Call our Arrest Hotline at 1-844-817-4448.

    • The hotline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and lawyers are available to answer your questions.
    • The person who has been arrested can call the Arrest Hotline from any police station in Chicago and Cook County. Or their family member or friend can call.
    • An arrest response attorney will go to the police station to represent the person who has been arrested and to make sure they understand their rights.
    • The service is free.
    • Read more about our arrest response lawyers and about the rights of every person who is arrested here.

    Public Defenders are real attorneys and are experts in the field of indigent defense.

    The Public Defenders at the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender are specialists in the area in which they are assigned and have a deep familiaritiy with the particular court processes in the courthouse in which the case will be held.

    Public Defenders are licensed, qualified attorneys who are paid for by the taxpayers in Cook County. Their work is supported by a staff of investigators, mitigation specialists, case workers, forensic science experts and other staff who help build a vigorous defense.

    If you are currently represented by an attorney inform him or her immediately. The attorney will help you to place your case on the court's calendar to clear it up.

    If you do not have an attorney, call the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office at the court building where your case is being heard and find out which court issued the warrant. You will then need to either hire an attorney to take your case or you can go to the Clerk's Office and file a motion to have your case brought into court. This will involve a fee. The Clerk's office can assist in the filing.

    Bear in mind there are no guarantees that you will not be arrested or taken into custody on the warrant until you can appear in court. There is usually a Public Defender available in court when you appear in front of the judge. If not, make a request for court-appointed counsel.

    Depending on the severity of the matter there are several possibilities once you appear in court. The case might be resolved that day if it is a minor issue. You can also set the matter for further court proceedings. The court will execute the warrant, set future dates, and either release you on your “own recognizance”(I Bond) or set bail. If bail is set, you will remain in custody until a bond is posted.

    We do not do expungements. An expungement is only one of the ways to remove a conviction from your record.

    Click here for a list of organizations that can assist individuals in attempting to expunge their court records.