Articles Posted in Criminal Cases

ConfessionYesterday, the United States Supreme Court issued several opinions on cases that had been closely watched by observers. The case that has received most of the public attention involves legalized sports betting. But lost in the coverage was the release of two opinions involving the 4th and 5th Amendment rights of criminal defendants. These opinions expand the rights of motorists in their vehicles and the rights of criminal defendants facing prosecution in Criminal Courts. I want to take this opportunity to discuss these two cases and how they will impact the criminal law.

Motorists Rights Expanded

The first case involves the appeal of the conviction of Terrence Byrd’s appeal of his conviction in Pennsylvania of Possession of Heroin and the Possession of Illegal body armor. Byrd plead guilty but reserved his right to appeal. Byrd had been sentenced to 10 years in prison. Byrd appealed and his conviction had been upheld by the Federal Court of Appeals. Yesterday, his conviction was overturned by the United States Supreme Court.

Speeding-Ticket-300x226In the past few years, the Illinois Legislature has enacted laws which make Excessive Speeding a much more serious matter than most people think. Most people are conditioned to believe that if they are pulled over for speeding they will receive a simple speeding ticket and the most that could happen to them is that they have to pay a steep fine and take a Traffic School class. The recent changes to the speeding laws have made certain Excessive Speeding tickets an actual crime. From all of the calls that I get from prospective clients, this area of the criminal law may be one of the most misunderstood subjects.

If you are caught speeding 26 to 34 miles per hour over the posted speed limit, you will be charged with a Class B Misdemeanor. A Class B Misdemeanor for speeding 26 to 34 miles per hour over the posted speed limit carries a maximum punishment of 180 days in County Jail and a maximum fine of up to $1,500. If you are caught speeding 35 miles per hour, or over, the posted speed limit, you will be charged with a Class A Misdemeanor. A Class A Misdemeanor for speeding 35 miles per hour over the posted speed limit carries a maximum punishment of up to one year in County Jail and a maximum fine of up to $2,500. So, if you are pulled over for speeding 26 miles per hour, and over, the posted speed limit, you will not receive a simple speeding ticket. You will be arrested and charged with a crime which carries a potential jail sentence. In addition to any possible criminal penalties, a conviction for speeding 26 miles per hour over the posted speed limit may result in the suspension of your driver’s license by the Illinois Secretary of State. A conviction for Excessive Speeding will remain permanently on your driving record with the Secretary and will appear as a criminal conviction in a routine background search. Not only will a prospective employer find out that you have been convicted of a crime, but your insurance company may use this conviction to drop you from their Auto Insurance plan or increase your insurance premiums.

Yesterday, the Illinois Department of Transportation greeted local motorists with some good news which may help reduce the number of Excessive Speeding cases that could lead to a criminal conviction and a potential jail sentence. Up until now, the speed limit on I-90 west of Elgin was 70 miles per hour all the way to Wisconsin. Yesterday, the Illinois Department of Transportation announced that the speed limit from Randall Road in Elgin to Mount Prospect Road has been increased to 70 miles per hour for all passenger cars. The new speed limit matches the 70 mile per hour speed limit from Elgin to Wisconsin. The previous speed limit from Randall Road in Elgin to Mount Prospect Road was 55 miles per hour.

Criminal-Defense-Attorney-300x201Last week I had a meeting with a client in my office in Schaumburg who was being charged with a felony in Rolling Meadows. The client has a lawyer who was representing him for the case. The client came in for a consultation because he was not happy with the services that his current lawyer was providing and was considering hiring me to represent him in the case. The client told me that he had spoken to his lawyer and requested copies of the police reports. His lawyer refused to provide copies of the police report and the client was very upset with that decision.

This is a very common scenario. I frequently talk with clients who want copies of the police reports so that they can review them at home with their friends and family. I’m sure that many of those clients want to talk to another lawyer and get a second opinion. When a criminal defense lawyer tells a client that they cannot give them copies of the police reports, the clients usually think that’s because the lawyer doesn’t want to lose the case. While that may be the reason behind refusing to give a client police reports in some cases, people need to understand that your criminal defense lawyer is prohibited from giving you copies of the police reports. Let me explain why.

Your lawyer is required to follow certain rules. Your lawyers’ conduct is governed by the Rules of Professional Responsibility. Those rules provide for certain ethical responsibilities that lawyers have to their clients and to the Court. The Supreme Court of Illinois has also enacted certain rules which limit what your lawyer can, or cannot do. The Supreme Court Rules govern what happens in court and what your lawyer can or cannot do while they are representing you in a criminal case in court. Your lawyer is required to follow all those rules.

Speeding-Ticket-LawyerIn the past several weeks, I have spoken to several clients who were arrested for Excessive Speeding and were charged with a crime. Most of the people I spoke to did not realize that they could be arrested for speeding. Many people do not understand the Illinois speeding laws and how a simple speeding ticket can lead to you being arrested and facing the real possibility of having a criminal conviction appear on your record and a possible jail sentence in your future. I want to take this opportunity to try to help people understand just how drastic the consequences of a speeding ticket in Illinois can be.

In general, if you are pulled over for speeding over the posted speed limit, you will not be arrested. The police officer will issue you a speeding ticket and depending on the County that you were pulled over in, and your driving record, you may be given the opportunity to avoid going to Court by paying a fine or by attending Traffic Safety School. But in certain circumstances, being pulled over by a police officer for speeding could result in an arrest and criminal charges.

Aggravated Speeding

Police-Vehicle-Search-300x200It is common to have a client come into my office who is facing criminal charges resulting from a search of their vehicle by a police officer. Many of those clients want to know whether the police had the right to search their vehicle and whether I can have the evidence that was recovered thrown out of Court. There’s no simple answer to this question. Whether the police had the right to search the vehicle and whether I can convince the Court to throw out the evidence depends on the facts of each individual case. I want to talk a little bit about the general rules and what the constitutional limits are when it comes to the police searching a motor vehicle.

Generally speaking, the police cannot search your vehicle without a warrant. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures when we have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Courts have consistently ruled that we do have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our motor vehicles. At the same time, the Courts have recognized that there is an “automobile exception” to the search warrant requirement when it comes to our cars. The “automobile exception” provides that individuals have a lower expectation of privacy when it comes to their cars as opposed to their homes. The Fourth amendment creates minimum requirements that apply to all states and in all cases. However, states are free to grant their citizens more rights than what’s afforded to them by the United States Constitution.

The police can search your vehicle without a warrant only under certain limited circumstances. The limited circumstances are set forth as follows:

Expert-Witness-300x201There was a time when eyewitness testimony was considered the best evidence in a criminal case.  But recent scientific developments have cast doubt on the reliability of eyewitness testimony.  Surveys of jurors in criminal cases show that jurors place great weight on the testimony of eyewitnesses. This can be dangerous because jurors will put greater weight on the testimony of an eyewitness and disregard other powerful and compelling evidence of innocence.  Several high-profile cases in which defendants were convicted based on eyewitness testimony were later overturned after it was proven that the defendants were not guilty. Kyle Bloodsworth was convicted of the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl based on the testimony of five eyewitness.  He was later cleared of the rape and murder after DNA testing proved that he was innocent.

Eyewitness testimony is based on the human memory.  To determine the reliability of eyewitness testimony, you must understand how the human memory works.  Most people think that the human memory is like a video recorder.  They believe that the human memory records the events and just plays them back exactly how they happened.  But researchers have discovered that this is not how the human memory actually works. Researchers believe that the human memory is more like a giant puzzle.  It seems like pieces of material are put together by the human brain in order to create a memory, or a narrative, of what happened.  That puzzle can be manipulated by questioning from defense attorneys or from other pieces of material that the person who is recalling the events is exposed to.  In addition, the accuracy of someone’s memory can be affected by psychological issues or substance abuse issues that the person providing eyewitness testimony may be suffering from.  In controlled studies, researchers have been able to create false memories in individuals by introducing pieces of information that did not actually occur.  The scientific studies have changed the way the legal system is dealing with eyewitness testimony.  In recent years, there has been a steady movement in the courts to allow expert testimony to be presented before a jury so that they can understand the true significance of eyewitness testimony.  The expert testimony is giving juries a more balanced and greater understanding of eyewitness testimony so that juries may be able to give a more measured response to such testimony.

Earlier this year, the Illinois Supreme Court addressed the issue of eyewitness testimony.  The court looked at the murder conviction of a man who had been convicted of the murder of a friend.  The only evidence in the case was the eyewitness testimony of a witness and a statement made by the victim identifying the defendant as the shooter.  When the defendant’s attorney sought to introduce expert testimony at trial to contest the accuracy and reliability of the eyewitness testimony, the trial court did not allow the expert testimony to be presented.  In overturning the murder conviction, the court cited the scientific evidence that we discussed earlier in this article along with the number of convictions later overturned after defendants were exonerated by DNA evidence.  The court pointed out that since 1989 there have been 150 wrongful convictions in Illinois. One-third of those wrongful convictions were based on mistaken eyewitness testimony.  The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that if prosecutors wanted to retry the defendant, the trial court must allow expert testimony to be introduced concerning the reliability of the eyewitness testimony.

Speeding-Ticket-Lawyer-300x200Recently, I have represented clients who received speeding tickets. In the course of representing these clients, I have come to realize that people do not really understand the Illinois Speeding Laws. In the last few years, the Illinois speeding laws have been changed. The changes have drastically increased the penalties for excessive speeding on Illinois roadways. Drivers are not adequately informed of what the potential consequences can be for a speeding ticket.

As someone who has received speeding tickets in the past, I remember when the biggest inconvenience associated with receiving a speeding ticket was having to take time off of work or school to go to Traffic Court at 321 North LaSalle, pay to park my car downtown, and wait for my case to be called and be dismissed because the police officer did not appear. Hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans used to visit that building every year.  Those days have changed. What used to be a major inconvenience can now lead to a potential jail sentence and a suspension of your driver’s license. Let me explain how the Illinois Legislature has made speeding a potential crime and not just a mere inconvenience.

There have been some positive changes for Chicago residents.  For one thing, Traffic Court has now been moved into the lower levels of the Daley Center.  This makes it easier to get to traffic court.  The CTA train stops at the Daley Center so you don’t have to drive to Traffic Court and navigate your way through the heavy Loop traffic only to pay the high fees to park your car at a parking lot in the loop.  Traffic tickets are still being dismissed when police officers do not appear in Traffic Court but police officers are appearing in Traffic Court more often because Police Department policies have changed to require that police officers appear in Court.

Felony ConvictionThis is a question that I am asked frequently around election time.  Most people do not understand what the rules are when it comes to whether you are allowed to vote if you have a felony conviction.  Rules vary from state to state and this has created confusion.  People don’t understand that each state has it’s own rules which requires that people with felony convictions inform themselves of what the rules are in their state. My experience with this issue is that most people are not informed as to what the law is in Illinois when it comes to felony convictions and voting rights in Illinois. Illinois has passed a specific law which spells out what effect a felony conviction can have on your right to vote in Illinois.  The law is set out in 10 ILCS 5/3-5.  In Illinois, a convicted felon has just as much of a right to vote as any other citizen in the state.  As long as you are not incarcerated, meaning serving a prison sentence, you can register and cast a vote in Illinois.  If you are in court and fighting your case, you can vote in Illinois.  Even if you are in jail fighting your case. If you are on probation, you can vote in Illinois.  If you are on parole, you can vote in Illinois.  As long as you have not been convicted and are in prison, you can vote.  However, if instead of being in prison, you are allowed to serve your sentence outside of prison, such as prison furlough or work release, you will not be allowed to vote until you finish your sentence.  If you went to prison and lost the right to vote you should re-register once you are released from prison so that you can go to the polls and cast your vote.

When someone is not allowed under the law to vote, they are called “disenfranchised” voters.  In 2010, roughly 2.5% of the nation’s voting age population could not vote because of a felony conviction.  In Illinois, that comes out to about 800,000 people who have been convicted of a felony.  If 800,000 people do not realize that they have not been stripped of their right to vote, and sit out an election because of their mistaken belief, this could make a big difference in a close election.  In my opinion, which is based on the questions that I get from criminal clients, as well as members of the public, not enough is being done to educate the public about this issue.

In seven states, people convicted of a felony are barred forever from ever voting.  Florida has the largest number of disenfranchised voters with roughly 10.42% of all voters.  In two states, Maine and Vermont, even prison inmates are allowed to vote.  In other states, convicted felons are required to petition the Governor to have their right to vote reinstated, or restored, once their sentence is completed.

Municipal-Ordinance-Violation-300x199The Public Safety Committee for the Village of Schaumburg has recommended that the Village of Schaumburg allow police officers to write local Municipal Violation tickets for first-time negligent driving offences. The measure is intended to go after drivers who are using hand-held cellphones while they are driving instead of hands-free devices. Village officials claim that the judges at the Rolling Meadows Courthouse are taking these tickets too lightly and not punishing offenders enough.

If this measure is adopted by the Schaumburg Village Board, police officers will have the option of writing a local Municipal Ordinance Violation ticket, issue written warnings, or issue a State Citation for a ticket violation which allow offenders an opportunity to go to Court and contest the ticket in Court, in front of an actual Judge. The fine for the Schaumburg Municipal Violation will be $75.

What’s a little troubling about this proposal is that the Public Safety Committee is proposing that the definition of negligent driving be defined more broadly than what current state law defines as negligent driving. According to one of the trustees of the Schaumburg Village Board, “the definition of negligent driving can be relevant even when an officer can’t prove a handheld cell phone was the cause.” In other words, if the police officer had a hunch, or was guessing, based on his experience, that a handheld device was being used, that would be enough to allow them to issue a ticket. I would like to see what the final ordinance says, but it seems to me as if officers will be allowed to issue these tickets based on a mere hunch without any proof. That does not seem very fair to me and could be open to a legal challenge which could cause Schaumburg’s taxpayers to pay the legal bills for a court fight.

Illinois-Felony-MisdemeanorWhat determines how serious a particular criminal charge in Illinois is depends on the potential criminal penalty that the crime carries. The lowest classification of crimes in Illinois is called a Misdemeanor. The highest classification of crimes in Illinois is called a Felony. Generally, any jail sentence for a Misdemeanor must be served in County Jail. Any jail sentence for a Felony must be served in State Prison. Any potential jail sentence for a Misdemeanor is under one year while any potential jail sentence for a Felony is one year or more. The range of penalties for Misdemeanors and Felonies in Illinois depend on what Class the crime you are charged with falls in. Every criminal offense is classified as a Felony or a Misdemeanor and assigned a specific Class. An experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer will know whether you are being charged with a Felony or a Misdemeanor and what class your criminal charge falls in.

Most Misdemeanor cases in Illinois are Class A Misdemeanors. A Class A Misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum of one year in county jail and a maximum fine of up to $2,500. An example of a Class A Misdemeanor is a Retail Theft or a simple Battery. But not all Class A Misdemeanors are treated equally. Domestic Battery is a class A Misdemeanor. However, if you are found guilty of a Domestic Battery, it can never be removed from your record while a Retail Theft can be. In addition, you can receive Court Supervision for a Retail Theft but you cannot receive Court Supervision for a Domestic Battery.

A Class A Misdemeanor that I am seeing more and more in court is Aggravated Speeding. You can be charged with a Class A Aggravated Speeding offense if you are speeding 35 miles or more over the posted speed limit. This crime used to be a simple speeding ticket. That is no longer the case in Illinois. So, if you are speeding 35 miles an hour over the speed limit, then you can be charged with a Class A Misdemeanor which carries a potential jail sentence of up to 364 days in County Jail and a fine up to $2,500.