A call for written admonishments in criminal cases
Illinois Supreme Court Rule 605 (titled “Advice to Defendant”) sets forth the admonishments a judge must give to a defendant at the time of imposing sentence—the critical moment when the defendant is told exactly what he must do to take an appeal. The instructions are as intricate as they are important. Yet, they are delivered only once—orally, and without an opportunity for the defendant to take notes or ask clarifying questions. The typical practice of orally delivering admonishments to a lay defendant ignores the glaring reality that virtually no human being—whether lay person or lawyer—is capable of retaining and recalling detailed information after hearing it only once. Why do the criminal courts indulge in this fantasy when such important rights are at stake?
I suggest a simple supplement to oral admonishments in criminal cases. The Illinois Supreme Court should reduce to writing the information its rules require judges to deliver in open court. At the time of sentencing, the judge can orally deliver the admonishments and simultaneously confirm the defendant has received a written version. For example, the judge would say, “You are now being provided a written copy of the admonishment for Rule 605(b). That rules requires I advise you of the following….” This extra step would not be very complicated. Not too expensive. Not too time-consuming.
Rule 605—and any other rule requiring the delivery of complicated instructions to a defendant—should be taken seriously. As is true of a chocolate chip cookie recipe, assembly steps for an IKEA dresser, or directions to the family cabin upstate, humans usually need their instructions to be in writing. The important instructions in a criminal case should be no exception.