On Saturday, May 19 from 12-4 p.m., First Defense Legal Aid (FDLA) will deploy volunteer attorneys to each of the city’s 23 police districts to offer free representation to any person in custody who wants an attorney. Representatives will hold a short press conference on the state of incommunicado detention in Chicago police stations and efforts to expand access to legal counsel that day, May 19, at 2 p.m. by the steps of the courthouse at 3150 W. Flournoy.
Although 2017 saw the highest rate of access to counsel inside Chicago police stations on record, this number amounted to a meager 1.5% of the almost 84,000 persons arrested last year. The widespread lack of access to representation is particularly troubling given Chicago’s reputation as the false confession capital of the United States and the fact that by law, 100% of people under arrest have the right to counsel. FDLA’s Day of Action attempts to fill this gap.
The right to counsel is guaranteed by both state and Constitutional law, but this right is in practice rarely afforded to Chicago’s arrestees, who are held for up to 72 hours without access to counsel. On May 19, volunteers will attempt to protect those in the custody of the police.
The Day of Action comes just over a year after Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans signed an order appointing the public defender and FDLA as legal counsel to any person in police custody who requests an attorney, as long as the Cook County Public Defender’s Office or FDLA has one available.
“The missing link has been the CPD allowing arrestees early access to phones at the stations: while the department agreed to post a toll-free number to retain an attorney, the phones are not made available to make this call until the end of the process,” said Charles Jones, an FDLA know your rights organizer.
The Day of Action organized by FDLA is a part of the organization’s 23 years of operating a 24/7/365 volunteer-driven legal aid hotline for people detained at police stations.
“On this day, the attorney volunteers who are typically ‘on call’ will not wait to respond to hotline calls but instead will go directly to all police stations stations to offer assistance, with the order from the Chief Judge in hand,” said FDLA attorney Ben Meyer.
“The Day of Action places the choice in the hands of police: follow the law and facilitate visits with arrestees who want a lawyer or stand between lawyers and their clients,” Meyer continued.
While volunteer attorneys offer free legal services to those held at police stations from 12-4 p.m., community members affected by incommunicado detention will pass out know-your-rights information outside the stations. Grassroots outreach encouraging loved ones to call FDLA on behalf of friends and family when they know of an arrest has occurred has played a critical role in increasing access to counsel in recent years: in 2013, just 0.3% of arrestees had a lawyer at the station.
First Defense Legal Aid has provided free attorneys to arrestees through a 24-hour volunteer-driven hotline since 1995 and conducts street workshops and outreach educating the public about constitutional rights in a police encounter. Anyone can call 1(800)LAW-REP4 anytime of day or night to request free legal aid for someone in Chicago police custody.