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prisoner-led-away-300x200Last week I was talking to a client about his case and the circumstances surrounding his arrest. He was explaining what the police did and was convinced that his “rights had been violated”. After he told me that “the police did not read him his rights” after he was arrested, I explained to him that a common misperception is that the police must read you your rights once you are arrested. After I explained this to the client, he asked me what rights he had when he was confronted by the police. This got me thinking about what rights citizens have when they are confronted by the police and how a lack of information about the legal rights that citizens have when the are approached by the police has led to so many criminal defendants making mistakes that should not have to be made. Let me discuss.

Let’s start off with this concept: In America, you are innocent until you are found guilty in Court. If you keep this principle in the front of your mind, then everything else I discuss in this article makes sense. I have been practicing criminal law for over 28 years. The biggest mistake that criminal defendants make is that they talk to the police. When you are approached by a police officer an are asked questions, you are presumed to be innocent. The only way to remove that presumption of innocence is if you go to Court and plead guilty, or are found guilty after a trial. Until, and unless that happens, you are innocent. Just because a police officer is asking you questions does not make you guilty of anything. You are under no obligation to prove your innocence. The state has the burden and the responsibility of proving you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You also have the absolute right to demand that the state prove you guilty without using any evidence or statements that you made to the police. That is your right as a US citizen. You have the absolute constitutional right to remain silent when the police are questioning you. Yet, most criminal defendants fail to exercise their most important and fundamental constitutional right. It’s the right to remain silent. You have the absolute constitutional right to not cooperate with the police when you are being questioned by them.

Your right to remain silent is found in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The famous case that discusses this constitutional right is commonly known as the Miranda case. Your right to remain silent kicks in as soon as you are subject to a custodial interrogation. This means that you have a right to assert your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself if you are considered to be in custody at the time on the questioning. In custody has been determined to mean that a reasonable person looking at the facts and circumstances would determine that you were not free to leave. In the case I discussed at the very top of this post, the client was not read his Miranda rights after he was arrested. The reason that it did not matter in his case was that he did not make any statements to the police that would be considered incriminating. Not only were there no incriminating statements, but there were no statements made that the prosecutor would have any reason to admit in Court.

Domestic-BatteryThis is, without a doubt, one of the most common questions I get from clients, especially if the client is accused of Domestic Violence and is charged with a Domestic Battery. Most of my clients appear for their first Court date only to be disappointed when the Judge continues their case and tells them to come back with a lawyer. Because a Domestic Battery is a Class A Misdemeanor that carries up to one year in jail, the question is not if you need a lawyer, but whether you will have a Public Defender represent you or whether you will have your own lawyer represent you. This will depend on whether the Court determines that you have the ability to afford to hire your own lawyer. If the Judge determines that you do not have the money to hire a lawyer, the Judge will appoint a Public Defender to represent you.

The decision about whether Domestic Battery criminal charges will be filed against you are not made by the victim. If you are facing a misdemeanor, the police will decide whether criminal charges will be filed. The police will make their decision based on the evidence, the facts and circumstances of the case, and the wishes of the Complaining Witness, or victim. Criminal charges for a Domestic Battery will not be filed because the victim insists that charges be filed. Criminal charges for a Domestic Battery will not be filed because the Complaining Witness insists that charges not be filed. The same holds true once the case goes to Court. While the victim’s wishes are always taken into consideration, since the victim did not file the charges, the victim cannot dismiss the criminal charges. The criminal charges can only be dismissed by the party that filed the criminal charges. If you are facing a felony, the decision to file criminal charges was made by the prosecutor’s office who reviewed the evidence and made the decision about whether to file criminal charges and what criminal charges to file.

In order to be convicted of any criminal charges, including a Domestic Battery, the prosecution must prove each and every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors evaluate every case based on whether they believe that they will be able to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt in Court. When prosecutors are prosecuting someone for a Domestic Battery, it is common for a Complaining Witness, or victim, to not show up to Court. When that happens, prosecutors will evaluate their case and determine whether they will have enough evidence to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt without the cooperation, and testimony, of the victim. While not having a testimony of the victim usually means that that the prosecutor will not be able to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, that is not always the case. There’s more than one way for a prosecutor to prove their case. If you made a statement to the police, prosecutors may be able to admit it into evidence. If there were witnesses to the incident, prosecutors may be able to prove their case with the witnesses. If you made a statement that falls under one of the hearsay exemptions, that statement may be used against you in court to help prove the state’s case.

Cell-Phone-Distracted-Driving-Ticket-300x226Illinois does not allow motorists to use their cell phone for talking, texting, or using any other means of electronic communication while they are operating their motor vehicle on a public road. The only way you can use your cell phone while driving is through Bluetooth technology, provided that you are 19 and over. In the last couple of years, tickets issued for using cell phones while driving have become common. The laws regarding use of a cell phone while driving have undergone several changes throughout the years. As a result, many motorists are not fully aware of what the rules are when it comes to using their cell phones while driving. Most of the clients who I meet for cases like this frequently tell me that they did not know how restrictive the cell phone usage laws are in Illinois. I want to take this opportunity to explain the cell phone Distracted Driving law in Illinois so that you know what is allowed and what is not allowed in Illinois.

In 2019, the Illinois legislature changed the Illinois Distracted Driving law by imposing stricter limits on the use of cell phones in cars, and making a ticket for using your cell phone while driving a moving violation in Illinois. Before 2019, a ticket for using your cell phone in your car was punishable by a fine only and was not reported to the Illinois Secretary of State so a ticket for using your cell phone would not affect your license. After 2019, a ticket for using your cell phone while driving is considered a moving violation which will be reported to the Secretary of State and will go on your driving record and affect the status of your driver’s license. A ticket for using your cell phone will never be removed from your driving record, regardless of what happens with the ticket.

What Is Not Allowed

Schaumburg-Criminal-Lawyer-300x226This morning I met with a client who was charged with a Domestic Battery against his wife last weekend. He and his wife have been going through some marital problems for several months which led to a very heated argument over the weekend. At the end of the argument, my client left the house to go for a ride in his car. After a couple of hours, he received a police a phone call from the local police asking him to return to the home so they can talk to him. When he arrived at his house, he found out that his wife had called 911 to report that she was a victim of Domestic Violence at the hands of my client. She told the police that when she tried to call the police my client fled from the residence in his car. My client insists that these allegations are false. My client’s wife obtained an Order of Protection and my client is not allowed to return to his house nor have any contact with his children. The client was very upset and was complaining that he should not have to hire a lawyer because he is innocent. This attitude by criminal defendants is very common. You need to understand how important it is that you have an experienced and knowledgeable criminal lawyer by your side if you are being charged with a criminal offense. Let me explain why.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives you the right to have a lawyer represent you whenever you are facing criminal charges. The Sixth Amendment also gives you the right to the lawyer of your choice, even if that means that you want to be your own lawyer. It’s important to understand what representing yourself means. Representing yourself means that you have the right to act as your own lawyer. It’s important to understand that if you exercise your Sixth Amendment right to represent yourself, you will be held to the same standards as any lawyer would. The prosecutor is a lawyer. Many prosecutors are highly experienced lawyers. Most prosecutors are in court all day, and have handled countless criminal cases. They have a law degree, passed a Bar Exam, a law license, and have the necessary knowledge and experience required of any lawyer who handles criminal cases. Most criminal defendants that represent themselves do not have the education, knowledge, and experience that the prosecutor has. If you choose to represent yourself, you should be aware of the obstacles you will face and how you are probably out of your league by taking on an experienced prosecutor. Do not think that because you are not a lawyer that the judge will cut you a break and not hold you to the same standards as any lawyer appearing in Court. You should not expect the Judge to help you or guide you through the process. You will be expected to know what you are doing and you will not be helped because you are not a lawyer. If you lose the case, you cannot get a new trial because you didn’t know what you were doing.

Your guilt or innocence will be determined by the judge or jury. The prosecution has the burden of proving you guilty Beyond A Reasonable Doubt. This means that the State has the burden of proving that every element of the crime that you are charged with has been proven by the state beyond a reasonable doubt. If the judge or jury are not convinced of your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, you will be found not guilty of the criminal charges. Your job is to create reasonable doubt in the State’s case by challenging their evidence and their witnesses. An experienced criminal defense lawyer knows how to do this because they’ve done it before. If you’ve never done it before, trying to defend yourself in court can be an uphill battle. An experienced and knowledgeable criminal lawyer knows the laws and the Rules of Evidence which governs how evidence can be introduced in Court. If the prosecutor tries to introduce evidence that is not admissible in court, your lawyer will know to object and prevent the evidence from being introduced and admitted into evidence. If you fail to object, not only does the evidence come in, but you will lose your right to appeal because you never raised the objection. It is not an excuse to claim that you are not a lawyer. While every case is different, the basic principles in our criminal laws apply to all criminal cases. The Rules of Evidence govern the admissibility and exclusion of evidence. An experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer understands with the principles of our criminal laws are and knows what the Rules of Evidence are.

DUI-1-300x199A few weeks ago, I signed up a new DUI case in Rolling Meadows. The client is only 23 years old and this was his first DUI. The client’s car broke down on the way home from a friend’s house and he had to to pull his car over by the side of the road. After a short time, a police officer approached his car and started asking him questions. The officer asked my client to perform the Standard Field Sobriety Tests on the side of the road and the client declined to do so because he is recovering from ankle surgery and was worried that he would fail the tests. The officer asked the client to blow into a Portable Breath Device to determine whether he was good to drive, and the client complied with the request. The Portable Breath Test indicated that he was slightly over the legal limit. The officer informed my client that he would be taking him to the police station to prepare some paperwork. When my client arrived at the police station, he was asked to take a Breathalyzer Test and refused. The officer told my client that he would be taken to the hospital for a blood draw to determine what his Blood Alcohol Level was. The client has a fear of needles so he refused to go to the hospital. The officer told my client that if he did not take a Blood Test that he would be placed under arrest. Fearing that he would be arrested for refusing to take a Blood Test, my client agreed to go to the hospital and agreed to have his blood drawn. Even though the police did not have the blood results, they arrested him and charged him with a DUI anyway.

This fact pattern in this case is somewhat unique. I have not had many cases where the police threatened to arrest a client for refusing to take a Blood Test or take a Breathalyzer Test. What this case does highlight is how not being fully informed about your legal rights as a motorist can come back to bite you when it really matters. You cannot be arrested because you refuse to have your blood drawn or because you refuse to take a Breathalyzer Test. Motorists should know what their rights are before something like this happens. Police officers are counting on you to not understand your rights so they can confuse you and get you to do something that you shouldn’t do and the police want you to do. If you are arrested for a DUI, you should not expect the police officer to give you advice on what you should, or should not do. Ultimately, you are responsible for yourself and you should not count on the legal advice of the police officer to help you make a decision on what is best for you.

You are not required to take a Breathalyzer Test, or a Blood Test, when you are asked to do so. There is no criminal penalty for refusing to take a Breathalyzer or Blood Test. Having said that, you should be aware that while there is no criminal penalty for refusing to take a Breathalyzer or Blood Test, the Illinois Secretary of State will suspend your license for 1 year if you refuse to take a Breathalyzer or Blood Test. This is a civil penalty, and not a criminal penalty. It is known as the Statutory Summary Suspension and the suspension will begin 46-days after the date of your DUI arrest.

Domstic-BatteryArguably, the most common question I am asked by clients. This happens all the time with Domestic Battery cases. While it’s always better to have a victim, or complaining witness, that is willing to cooperate with the defense, it does not mean that the case will be dismissed or that the Defendant is guaranteed to win their case. Let me explain.

Your criminal case begins when you are arrested by the police. If you are facing a misdemeanor criminal charge, the police will charge you with whatever they believe they can prove in Court. If you are charged with a felony, police will consult with the prosecutor’s office who will review the facts and evidence in your case, and file whatever criminal charges they think are appropriate. Police and prosecutors make the ultimate decision to file criminal charges. The victim’s input is important and almost always taken into consideration. The victim’s wishes are taken into consideration and play a major role in almost every criminal case.  However, the victim’s wishes are not determinative of whether criminal charges will be filed or how the case will proceed in Court. Prosecutors are required to keep victims informed about the case and give victim’s an opportunity to attend every court date and address the Court if the need arises. But the threshold issue, of whether criminal charges will be filed, or what criminal charges will be filed, or whether the case will be dismissed, will be decided by the prosecutor based on their discretion and their continuing ethical obligations. The Judge plays no role in those decisions and does not have the power to dismiss charges because the victim is not cooperating with the prosecution and wants the case dismissed.

Situations like this often arise in Domestic Violence cases. The victim and the defendant are in a relationship and the victim does not want anything to happen to the defendant. Many times the victim does not appear in Court for the Defendant’s Domestic Battery case. This is common in Domestic Violence cases. While this is usually good news for the Defendant, it doesn’t mean that the case will be dismissed or that the Defendant will win their case. When victims do not appear in court, it does not mean that your case will be dismissed. The prosecutor has the right to proceed with the case without the cooperation and testimony of the victim. Whether the prosecutor decides to dismiss the case or continue with the case will depend on the evidence gathered by the police. The prosecutor may decide to proceed with the case if they determine that they can prove the Defendant’s guilt without the testimony and cooperation of the victim. I have seen the state proceed with Domestic Battery cases when the victim is not cooperating with the state when the state has other witnesses that are willing to testify, confessions or other statements made by the defendant, and video evidence that shows what happened.

DUI-300x231The best evidence that the police and the prosecutors have to prove a DUI in Court is a Breathalyzer Test. While it is not necessary for the State to have a breathalyzer test to prove you guilty of a DUI in Court, it is the best evidence that the state can have in a DUI case. I frequently talk to clients who do not understand what a Breathalyzer Test is and how easy it is to get a result that could make it very difficult to fight a DUI case. I want to discuss some facts about the Breathalyzer Test and eliminate some common misunderstandings.

What is a Breathalyzer Test?

The Breathalyzer Test measures the ratio of alcohol to blood or breath. A motorist is asked to blow into a machine, usually at the Police Station, and the machine will record a result which indicates what the alcohol to blood or breath ratio is. In Illinois, a blood alcohol ratio (BAC) of .08 or above is considered to be over the legal limit. If you are under the age of 21, you cannot have any alcohol in your system while operating a motor vehicle. For motorists under 21, if the breathalyzer test detects the presence of any alcohol, that would be enough to charge you with a DUI. If you are a school bus driver, you can be charged with a DUI if a breathalyzer test detects the presence any alcohol in your body. If you are a commercial driver’s license holder, a BAC of .04 or above above is enough to arrest you and charge you with a DUI.

DUI-300x288I frequently speak to clients who have been arrested for a DUI. After the initial shock of being arrested wears off, most DUI clients start to think about the future and the possible implications of having a DUI. As with most things, most people do not think about what could happen to them if they picked up a DUI until it actually happens to them. When I receive those calls, most clients are initially worried about whether they will be going to jail. After I explain to them that jail is usually not an option for a first time DUI, the next question is whether they will lose their license as a result of the DUI. I want to take an opportunity to talk about how a DUI can affect your drivers license.

A first time DUI is considered a Class A Misdemeanor in Illinois. A Class A DUI Misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of up to one-year in County Jail and a maximum fine of $2,500. While it is possible to go to jail for your first DUI, It is highly unlikely that you will be sentenced to jail for your first DUI. It is always possible to receive Court Supervision for your first DUI. Court Supervision is not considered a criminal conviction. A sentence of Court Supervision for your first DUI will allow you to keep your license and maintain your driving privileges in the State of Illinois. Most first time DUI offenders that are found guilty of a DUI, receive Court Supervision for their first DUI. Conditional Discharge is another possible sentence for a first time DUI. Conditional Discharge is considered a conviction that will have serious implications for your drivers license. A sentence of Conditional Discharge for a DUI will result in the revocation of your drivers license and will prohibit you from being able to operate a motor vehicle in the State of Illinois. While it is possible to receive Conditional Discharge for your first DUI, it is rare to see this happen for a first time DUI. However, if you get a second DUI, you cannot receive Court Supervision. The lowest sentence that you can receive for a second DUI is Conditional Discharge. A sentence of conditional discharge for a DUI, whether it’s your first or second DUI, will result in the revocation of your drivers license and will cause you to lose your driving privileges in the State of Illinois.

If you are arrested for a DUI, you will be given some paperwork when you leave the Police Station. It is very important that you read, and understand, the paperwork you are given. One of the documents will be entitled, ‘Notice of Statutory Summary Suspension.’ Depending on whether you took a breathalyzer test or refused to take a breathalyzer test, one of the two boxes on the top left hand part of the document will inform you that your license will be suspended for a period of time. If you took a breathalyzer test and your blood alcohol level was .08 or above, the Notice of Statutory Summary Suspension will notify you that your drivers license, or your Illinois driving privileges, will be suspended for six months. The six-month suspension will begin 46 days after the date of the DUI arrest. If you refused to take a breathalyzer test, the Notice of Statutory Summary Suspension will notify you that your drivers license and your Illinois driving privileges, will be suspended for 12 months. The 12 month suspension will begin 46 days after the date of the DUI arrest. This is known as the Statutory Summary Suspension. The Statutory Summary Suspension will apply to cases involving a blood draw and a refusal to submit to a blood draw. To challenge the Statutory Summary Suspension, your lawyer must file a Petition to Rescind the Statutory Summary Suspension within 90 days of the date of your DUI arrest. When you meet with your lawyer for the DUI, make sure you bring all of the paperwork you received at the police station to the meeting with your DUI lawyer. The papers contain important information that your DUI lawyer will need to prepare and file the Petition to Rescind the Statutory Summary Suspension. We have previously discussed what a Petition to Rescind is, and how to pursue the Petition in court.

Miranda-300x200When most people find themselves facing criminal charges, basic human instincts will kick in and they will want to try to talk themselves out of the predicament that they find themselves in. This usually happens early on in a criminal case when the police question you and want to get your side of the story. You always have the right to talk to the police and to testify at your trial, however, that may not always be the best strategy. In my 28-years of practicing criminal law, I can honestly say that the biggest mistake that most criminal defendants make is talking to the police. Sometimes, defendants continue making the same mistake and insist on testifying at trial. I want to talk about what your rights are when you are on trial and why you should think twice about talking to the police and testifying at trial.

The famous court case that discusses your right to remain silent is Arizona v. Miranda. The Miranda decision is famous because of Hollywood and TV crime shows. Everyone knows that the Miranda case gives you the right to remain silent and refuse to testify in court. But there is a little bit more to Miranda that people should be aware of. The Miranda case deals with the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Fifth Amendment states that you cannot be forced to be a witness against yourself. This means that you cannot be forced to tell on yourself. The Fifth Amendment in the United States Constitution is known as the Right Against Self Incrimination. The Fifth Amendment’s right to remain silent attaches the moment you are the subject of a custodial interrogation. What is critical in determining whether the Fifth Amendment applies to your case is whether you were in custody or not. Generally, whether you are in custody depends on whether an objective person feels that at the time you were questioned by the police, were you free to leave or not. Generally, if you are being questioned by the police and you were not free to leave, that would be a custodial interrogation which requires that you be advised of your right to remain silent and that you freely and voluntarily waive that right.

Your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent is different when it comes to testifying at trial. You are under no obligation to prove that you are not guilty at trial. The government, or the prosecution, has the burden of proving you guilty of each and every element of what you are being charged with Beyond A Reasonable Doubt. However, since you have the right to testify at your trial, only you can wave, or give up, your right to testify at trial. And since you have the right to wave your right to testify, only you can make the decision about whether you want to testify or not. Since you have the constitutional right to testify, or not, if you decide that you will not testify at trial, your decision to waive your right to testify cannot be used against you by the prosecution, judge, or jury. In other words, if you refuse to testify at your trial, if the prosecutor argues to a judge or jury that your refusal to testify shows that you are guilty, that would be improper and would likely lead to a mistrial for making those statements.

Criminal-DiscoveryI often have to catch myself when I’m talking to my clients about their criminal cases. As lawyers, we sometimes use terminology that while it may be common for us, is foreign to most people who are not involved in the criminal justice system every day like we are. The other day I was talking to a client about the status of their criminal case and I mentioned to the client that I was ‘waiting for Discovery’. I didn’t give the terminology a second thought, assuming that the client knew what I was talking about. However, the client made it very clear that they did not understand what I was saying and I realized that most clients probably feel the same way. I want to take this opportunity to describe what Discovery is and why it sometimes takes a long time time for Discovery to be complete.

If you are facing criminal charges, the US Constitution requires that you have a fair trial. Central to the notion of a fair trial in the criminal law is the requirement that you be provided with all of the evidence the prosecution intends to use in Court to prove you guilty of the criminal charges. In order to have a fair trial, there can be no surprises. Criminal defendants have a right to see all of the evidence the prosecution has. But fairness requires more than you be given the evidence that the prosecution intends to use against you. Fairness requires that you be given ALL of the evidence that is in the states possession. This includes evidence that may tend to show that you are not guilty of the criminal charges.

While the Constitution requires that a criminal defendant be afforded a fair trial, the prosecution is also entitled to be treated fairly. That is why the state has the right to be provided with any evidence that a defendant intends to use at trial. The bottom line is that there should be no surprises in any criminal cases. That is basically what the Discovery process in a criminal case is all about. It’s the part of the case where the parties exchange all of the evidence and then determine whether they want to go to trial, or work out a plea agreement to avoid going to trial. It is usually the most important part of a criminal case.