I recently went to DeKalb Recorders Court for a client with a serious traffic violation. The only reason we were even in Recorders Court instead of State Court (where I can almost always get you a much better deal) was because our Motion for a Jury Trial was DENIED. Now you may be saying, "But, Laura, don't you have a constitutional right to trial by a jury of your peers?" You would be absolutely correct, but it's fairly simple to waive (give up) that right. We never allow our clients to waive their trial rights unless we have worked out a good plea deal for them. Unfortunately, this client had appeared in court before retaining us and unknowingly waived all his rights by signing a simple form.
Municipal courts frequently hand you a waiver of rights form when you first walk in the door, which alone seems dangerously close to violating your rights, but Dekalb Recorders Court goes a step further and sometimes they make it seem like you have to sign a waiver of rights form before you leave the courthouse even if you are pleading not guilty. The way it goes down is first they tell you (correctly) that you have 2 options: (1) plead guilty or nolo that day; or (2) plead not guilty and get a reset date. Then, when you approach the calendar clerk for your reset date, they ask you for that signed form. Most people just go ahead and sign it, not realizing what they are doing, and "poof!" bye-bye civil rights.
Now, on this particular day that I went to Recorders Court, my client didn't even show up. (HUGE no-no, but that's a topic for another post) Nonetheless, I worked my magic, and instead of my client getting a failure to appear suspension or a bench warrant, I got him/her set up for a sweet deal on a plea in absentia. Not only are they not going to get their license suspended or, worse, arrested, but they don't even have to go back to court for this sweet deal I conjured. And when I approached the calendar clerk for my reset date, she asked me to sign a waiver of rights form for my client. Naturally, I refused to do so even though I had a deal worked out. I would never sign something on my client's behalf without their permission! The calendar clerk was completely taken aback that I refused to sign the form, as if this had never happened before. Clearly the lesson here is to get a lawyer before you go to court, and apparently you need to make sure and get a good one who isn't going to sign your rights away unnecessarily. And if you absolutely must go to court unrepresented, please, please, please make sure you've read and understood anything you sign!