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Government shutdown will hurt the Illinois justice system

The Chief Judge of the Southern District of Illinois has issued a dire warning about the consequences of the federal government's ongoing shutdown on the justice system.

There are many obvious pain points related to the shutdown -- including the vast numbers of unpaid federal workers. However, many of the shutdown's less visible consequences to the criminal justice system are also serious.

One of those consequences is the inability to pay expert witnesses for their testimony. These witnesses are often used in drug cases to challenge the state's claims of a drug's purity. This can drastically affect a sentence if the defendant is convicted.

Another problem the courts will soon face is the inability to pay jurors the $50 per diem they are due for their service. While that might seem trivial to some, it probably doesn't to the jurors -- many of whom must take time off from their jobs to do their civic duty.

The judge is concerned that some jurors may rush their decisions on trials rather than face the prospect of too many days without any kind of income. Allowing only those who can "afford to serve" act as jurors would deprive defendants of a true jury of their peers since it would put only a select few in the jury box.

There's also the issue of the private attorneys who are tapped by the court to handle numerous defense cases on behalf of the state. All of those attorneys have been doing that work without pay since the shutdown began. That could lead to unnecessary stress and add to the distractions every defense attorney already has to face with a challenging workload.

Since many clerical employees in the justice system are furloughed, there are fewer people around to process paperwork and do all of the essential tasks that keep the entire justice system running smoothly. That leads to delays, which can deprive defendants of the right to a speedy trial. Those delays may even continue -- well after the shutdown is over -- as backlogs are addressed.

Don't allow your criminal defense to falter in these troubled times. If you've been charged with a crime, find out more about your options for a solid, proactive defense today.

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