Are Public Defenders or Self-Representation Viable Options to Defend a DUI Charge?

Interviewer: Why might it be a bad idea to consider self-representation or go with a public defender to defend a DUI?

A Fool for a Client…

Jerald Novak: First of all, if you represent yourself, you have a fool for a client, and I’m not trying to be disrespectful to those clients who do represent themselves. But I’ve never built a house, and I wouldn’t begin to start to build my own house without some experience. There are just too many ways to make too many mistakes.

Oftentimes, correcting those mistakes is more costly than dealing with the problem the correct way up front. Generally, you’re only going to muck up your case if you try to handle it on your own. In many instances, where you do have a constitutional right to represent yourself, most judges will be very pleasant and very nice and send you home and say come back with an attorney.

It Is Important to Choose an Attorney Who Specializes in DUI Defense

You really want to find an attorney who concentrates in this area of law because there are so many nuances. There are so many things to be aware of that the general practitioner has no clue what they’re doing other than on a general basis. I like to say general practitioners are a jack of all trades, master of none.

You really want a DUI specialist. If you have a brain tumor, you want to go to a brain surgeon. If you have a dental problem, you want to go to a properly trained dentist. If you have an eye problem, you want to find an ophthalmologist. You don’t want to go to your podiatrist to prescribe glasses for you, yet they’re both doctors.

You Cannot Choose Which Public Defender Will Represent You

With regards to the public defender, the public defender is a person who has gone to law school and has passed the bar, but the problem is like going to the factory to get the next widget off the line. You don’t get to select who is going to represent you. You don’t get to find out what their credentials are. You don’t get to find out what their training is.

You don’t get to find out what their experience is. You don’t get to say, yes, I want this attorney, or no, I don’t want this attorney. It is very difficult to have contact with them. It is very difficult to get case updates from them.

You Can Only Be Appointed a Public Defender If You Genuinely Cannot Afford a Private Attorney

Interviewer: In terms of caseload, their caseload is much higher than that of private attorneys.

Jerald Novak: That’s absolutely correct. Because of their voluminous caseload, they don’t have the time and the resources to put into your case to defend your case to their fullest. There are a lot of limitations with the public defender.

Lastly, the public defender is generally reserved for people who are poor and cannot afford legal representation. Many people who think about using a public defender probably do not qualify for the public defender under most circumstances.

In Illinois, a Public Defender Cannot Represent You before the Administrative Hearing That Is Deciding the License Suspension

Interviewer: What about the driver’s license suspension portion of DUI? Since that is administrative or non-criminal, a public defender can’t even address that part of your case?

Jerald Novak: That’s absolutely true. In Illinois, you have to think about a DUI case a lot like an egg. To take that egg, that white oval object, and you know, you crack it open and put it into a hot frying pan, you really get two parts. If we focus on the yellow as being the center of our problem, that’s a criminal offense, and the state has to find you guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

The public defender could represent you and does represent you if you are appointed to one on that issue. But what surrounds the yellow is the suspension of your license, and that’s considered a civil proceeding.

Because the public defender is only appointed to represent you on criminal matters, they cannot legally represent you on a challenge to your license suspension. Which basically means if you get the public defender, you are 100% assured that you will suffer that license suspension.

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