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Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans signed an order Tuesday that grants suspects in Chicago police custody to have free access to an attorney before their bail hearing, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The U.S. Constitution and Illinois law already grant suspects the right to an attorney before being charged. But the Cook County public defender said that principal is rarely enforced.

Criminal justice advocates say many arrested by the Chicago police don’t receive legal assistance until after their bail hearing in court. In many cases, they’ve already made incriminating statements to investigators at that point.

Evans’ order would allow suspects to speak with a lawyer much earlier.

“I want to ensure that constitutional rights are protected from the earliest point of contact with the criminal justice system,” Evans said in a statement. “The concept of ‘justice’ demands that we take this step to strengthen an individual’s rights and the public’s confidence in the system.”

First Defense Legal Aid, a nonprofit advocacy organization, discovered through a public records request that less than 1 percent of people arrested by the Chicago police were able to consult with an attorney at the police station. And only two out of 1,000 juveniles had an attorney during questioning.

Chicago’s criminal justice system has a history of wrongful convictions. Advocates hope that Evans’ order will prevent future cases.

In response to the order, the Chicago Police Department agreed to post signs for free legal services but did not comment on granting suspects the opportunity to call and meet with an attorney, the Tribune said.

SOURCE:  Chicago Tribune

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