Why Are There So Many Wrongful Convictions in IL?

Report Calls Out Flaws In Public Defender System


by Ari Shapiro, as aired on National Public Radio (NPR) April 15, 2009

Public Defenders Hard to Come By in Louisana


by Debbie Elliot, as aired on National Public Radio (NPR) March 10, 2017

Illinois doesn’t have nearly the population of California, but as of 2017, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, it has a total of 199, or 9 more than the 190 former prison inmates in California whose criminal convictions were overturned since 1989, and who were exonerated after it was determined that they were all wrongfully convicted. These individuals spent years, and in some instances, decades languishing, locked away in State prisons. In every case these inmates required outside help from Innocence Projects, pro bono attorneys, and many other individuals to help them attain their freedom. In most situations, these efforts required long and extraordinary dedication to achieve their freedom. The National Registry of Exonerations interactive map at  https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/Exonerations-in-the-United-States-Map.aspx shows IL to be one of 4 states nationwide with the largest number of exonerees to date.

The NPR episodes above illustrate some of the nature of the problem: that most criminal defendants lack the financial resources to hire their own attorneys to represent them against criminal charges and are forced to instead rely up public defenders who are overworked and underfunded. Many wrongful convictions in IL stem from the inadequate representation these defendants receive as a result. While there is hue and cry about crime and victim rights, funding for most public defender offices statewide is an unpopular issue publicly and not well supported in funding. Most office these offices are run on a financial shoestring compared to the money made available to the local state’s attorneys office which prosecute crimes.

But the inadequacy of public defender office staffing and funding is not the only reason why a disproportionately high number of individuals in IL have been exonerated after being found to be wrongfully convicted in the first place.

Criminal defense is expensive and the quality of even private representation (by private attorneys) is questionable.  People are mistaken in their belief that attorneys generally represent their criminal clients as well as they do on TV or in the movies. Good representation may happen in big media cases where attorneys want to display their best skills. It does not happen in your average case. Criminal defendants will tell you that attorneys routinely over sell their services and abilities initially to them only to represent them inadequately. Hardened criminals who have been thru the system repeatedly or over a long time and who have money probably come to know who is best to hire when they need good representation. Your average person or first-time defendant even if they have money and resources generally is lucky to obtain or ultimately find the right legal help. A serious felony charge can cost a defendant $40 or $50,000, or more, and a murder case can easily run $100 – $500,000. Most people don’t have the money to properly defend themselves, and even if they do initially, multiple cases can quickly deplete their resources.

It is not only public defenders who defendants complain fail to return phone calls or meet with them; too often it seems that IL criminal defense attorneys specifically more and more these days limit themselves to doing the minimum required for clients. Attorneys are supposed to self-regulate and to be overseen in IL by the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commision (ARDC), but the ARDC only seems able to review and take action in about 1% of the the complaints it receives each year.

  1. lawyeromaha says:

    That does not seem right if the lawyer only meets with the client right before the arraignment! How could they represent a good case? Terrible..


  2. jaime raddatz says:

    i believe my son was wrongfully accused of the crime he committed , and i would like to find out how to get him out jail , well hes actually at clayton work camp in mt.sterling il , so if theres any one who can help me out with that i would be ever so greatful .thank u


  3. parchangelo says:

    Lisa Smith (elja) wrote:
    I’m sorry but I have both helped friends and been in jail myself for awhile and had a lot of time to watch public defender’s “represent” their clients. Too often they do not even meet a client until they are arraigned, and then rarely prepare for their cases. Too often they fail to present evidence, prep witnesses and do more than the bare basics on a case. Heck, I am paying for an attorney now and I would be better off representing myself. I have to do all the legwork and assemble all the evidence for him. I’ve had him and a PD. Neither gave me the advice from the start that had I known it would have preserved my evidence and gotten me out of where I am. Maybe there are hard-working, responsible PD’s, but they are few and far between compared to competent State’s Attorney’s


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