I don’t want to embarrass anyone, because I like the judge and public defender that this story is about. But …
The other day, I was sitting in court. While I was there, they called the case of a defendant who was charged with driving while suspended because of DUI. To be clear, this is a serious offense, not just a simple traffic matter. A first offense carries a mandatory minimum sentence of either 30 days of community service (usually unpleasant labor working for the sheriff) or 10 days in jail. In certain cases, it can be upgraded to a felony charge, and if so, it then carries a mandatory minimum of 30 days of jail.
This defendant came to court without an attorney.
The judge was really upset that this was the umpteenth guy with who had been arrested for driving while suspended who received an “I” bond (i.e. on his recognizance). So the judge “sua sponte” (i.e., on its own) changed the bond to $150,000 “D” and continued the case to the middle of January. This meant that unless this fellow could raise $15,000 to bond himself out, he would remain in custody for 42 days — during the holidays, which, for many, makes this much worse. Since the Cook County Sheriff gives “day for day” credit on this type of case, this was the equivalent of imposing an 82 day sentence, without a trial. Without consulting an attorney. Without this defendant even having a clue as to what had just happened to him. He was just taken away to the lock-up. A few minutes later, the courtroom sheriff gave his crying girlfriend a baggie containing his belongings.
Then there was a break, and I started complaining to the courtroom’s public defender about how could the judge just do that without at least giving the guy an opportunity to speak to counsel? There was a lull in the conversation. A few minutes later, as we were still waiting, I brought it up again a second time. How could this judge just do this to someone? He just gave this guy a sentence eight times the minimum! I guess I struck a chord with the PD. He got up out of his seat, told the sheriff to hold the defendant, got the file from the clerk and worked out the case with the state’s attorney. The sentence? Supervision and 30 days community service, and the defendant was released immediately.
This defendant was very lucky that the public defender decided to act. If the defender hadn’t, this man would have spent his entire December and a third of January in Cook County Jail.
My advice: don’t hope to be lucky. Be smart, and retain a qualified attorney before the first court date.