Attorney James G. Dimeas
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Retail-TheftThe Cook County State’s Attorney, Kim Foxx, has announced that her office will stop prosecuting cases involving people charged with driving on a suspended or revoked driver’s license based on a financial reason, such as failure to pay parking tickets. tolls or child support.  The decision to do this is based on a lack of funding for the State’s Attorney’s Office which has left the office with not enough prosecutors to handle the criminal prosecutions in Cook County.  This does not mean that these cases will go away in Cook County.  Individual towns, cities and villages will be allowed to prosecute these cases themselves. This could mean a rise in the number of cases being charged as Municipal Violations.  Each city, town, and village can set up their own administrative process which involves Hearing Officers and attorneys hired by the towns and Villages, that collect fines for violations.  The standard of proof in a Municipal Ordinance Violation case is much lower than in a criminal case and the potential punishment is a monetary fine and not jail time.

Another change announced by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has to do with charging people involved in serious car crashes while their licenses were suspended or revoked for financial reasons. Currently, if someone is involved in a serious car accident and their license is suspended, they could be charged with a felony if they have one previous conviction for driving with a suspended license.  The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office announced that they will not charge a driver with a felony unless they have at least five previous convictions for driving with a suspended or revoked license.  This only applies if the suspension or revocation is based on a financial reason.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office points out that the office is operating with 30% less funding than 10 years ago.  The decision to stop prosecuting suspended and revoked license cases based on financial reasons will help free up some prosecutors to help prosecute more serious criminal cases.  There’s at least 2 Courtrooms at the Daley Center that handle cases like this.  By declining to prosecute cases like this, the prosecutors assigned to those courtrooms will be reassigned to other courtrooms and courthouses.

UUW-Unlawful-Use-of-a-WeaponYesterday, Illinois governor Bruce Rauner, signed a bill into law which increases the minimum sentence for defendants convicted of a second or subsequent violation of Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon by a Felon. Under current law, a defendants convicted of a second or subsequent violation of the Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon by a Felon statute would be convicted of a Class 2 felony which carries a mandatory prison sentence of between 3 to 14 years. The new law, which was signed yesterday, increases the mandatory prison sentence to 7 to 14 years.

This new law enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Springfield, something that has been very rare in Springfield in recent years.  This new law was strongly supported by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson.  Chicago officials are desperately trying to do something to deal with the out-of-control gun violence in Chicago.  It’s possible that this new law will do little, or nothing, to stop the gun violence in Chicago, but the politicians want to be seen as trying to do something.  In spite of the strong bipartisan support, our elected officials could not help but let this new law get caught up in the partisan bickering which has handicapped Springfield and endangered the health of the State of Illinois. Governor Rauner and Mayor Emanuel have been bickering over many issues concerning the funding needs of the City of Chicago.  Most recently, Governor Rauner has indicated that he would like to sell the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago.  According to Rauner, the possible sale of the Thompson Center could fetch the State of Illinois as much as $300 million.  Mayor Emanuel has been placing obstacles in front of Governor Rauner to stop any sale of the Thompson Center.  Most recently, Mayor Emanuel threatened to hold up zoning laws as an obstacle to allowing Rauner to sell the Thompson Center.  Governor Rauner wanted Mayor Emanuel to come to Springfield for the signing ceremony to show the voters that progress was being made in bipartisan efforts to do business and work past differences in Springfield.  Mayor Emanuel indicated he would not attend a signing ceremony in Springfield with Rauner and accused the Governor of threatening to veto a 911 bill for Chicago that would raise phone bills but provide more money for Chicago’s 911 system.

At the end of the day, the bickering politicians but aside their petty partisan fight and Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson attended a quickly arranged signing ceremony in Springfield. However, Mayor Emanuel did not attend.  In order to get support for this legislation, the new law also makes other changes to the law.  This new law gives greater power to the Illinois Department of Corrections to give sentencing credits to inmates who have been sentenced to prison.  This may allow some inmates to be released earlier from state prison.  This new law also appears to give more options for first time offenders to address the causes of their crime.  We have to see, what, if any options will be available for first-time offenders to avoid jail and a possible criminal conviction.  These changes appear to be trying to take steps towards lowering the prison population and the costs associated with the criminal justice system.  This effort seems to be a concession towards those legislators concerned with the cost to taxpayers for housing inmates in state prison.  I saw a recent survey that it costs the State of Illinois about $25,000 a year to house an inmate in State Prison for one year.  Another change to this law creates a task force within the Illinois State Police to help combat gun crimes.

Bond-Hearing-2On June 12, we reported that Illinois Governor, Bruce Rauner, signed a Bail Reform bill into law.  The new law seeks to make changes to the bail process in Illinois by trying to move away from the requirement of posting cash as a way to avoid keeping people in jail who are poor and lack the financial means to post the cash needed to be released from county jail on minor criminal offenses. The new law requires that if the Court sets a cash bond at an initial Bond Hearing, and the defendant is unable to post the cash required, a second Bond Hearing must take place within 7 days of the arrest.  The purpose of this second bond hearing is to re-examine whether there are alternatives available to the requirement that cash be posted.  This second Bond Hearing is a further step towards moving away from making posting cash the main way to be released from jail pending resolution of a criminal case.

About 18 months ago, the Illinois Supreme Court instituted a pilot program, which had many of the changes contained in this new law, to see how they would impact the court system.  Kane County was one of the counties that participated in this pilot program.  Kane County has seen some of the impacts of this new law and county and court officials are expressing some concerns which we will discuss.

The first impact is a loss of revenue.  The Clerk of the Circuit Court of each county is allowed to keep 10% of any bond money posted.  So if a defendant posts $10,000 in bond money, when the case is finished. the Clerk of the Circuit Court will refund $9,000 to the person who posted the bond and will keep $1,000 for the Clerk of the Circuit Court.  If fewer people are required to post a cash bond, this means that there’s less money for the Clerk of the Circuit Court.  Kane County officials estimate that this could cause a $200,000 loss in revenue this year.  Kane County is already facing a budget deficit.  You would think that this loss in revenue could be absorbed by the savings from the lower number of inmates in Kane County Jail.  However, a recent increase in the number of violent crimes in Kane County has led to an increase in the jail population in Kane County Jail. Kane County officials blame the increase in the violent crime rate in Kane County to the fact that gang members can get to Kane County from Chicago via I-88 and I-90.  Chicago gangs are able to extend their drug trade from Chicago to Kane County, causing an increase in violent crimes and a further strain on Kane County’s limited resources.

Bond-Hearing-1On Friday, Illinois Governor, Bruce Rauner, signed a new bill into law which takes affirmative steps to try to solve the bail problem in Illinois. The bill, called the Bail Reform Act, makes some significant changes to the bail process in Illinois and seeks to deal with the problems faced by people who are charged with minor crimes who are stuck in jail because they are unable to come up with the low amount of cash to post bail so they can be released.

I recently posted an article about a 60 Minutes episode which points out the numerous problems with Cook County Jail. In that article, I pointed out that last year, over a thousand people spent more time in Cook County Jail than what they were eventually sentenced to by the court. What was most disturbing is that just as many people spent over 222 years more than what they were eventually sentenced to. The main reason behind this was that non-violent offenders, who were charged with minor crimes, were not able to come up with the low amounts of cash needed to post the bail needed to get out of jail. As a result, they were stuck in Cook County Jail until their case was finished.

Tom Dart, the Cook County Sheriff, the man who is in charge of running the day-to-day operations of Cook County Jail, has long been an advocate for reforming the Bail process. He has been pushing the Illinois Legislature for a number of years, to address the Bail process so that this injustice of forcing people who are poor to sit in jail for many months just because they are poor. I pointed out in this article that the Illinois Legislature is working on steps to try to deal with this problem.

Retail-TheftRetail Theft, commonly known as shoplifting, is a very serious crime in Illinois. In addition to the criminal penalties associated with a Retail Theft case, a prospective employer that finds a Retail Theft case in a background search could use it against you to deny you employment. Some employers conduct background searches. If your current employer finds out about a Retail Theft arrest, your employer may fire you. If you try to lease an apartment and a landlord conducts a background search, that landlord may turn down your lease application.

There are several ways that you could be guilty of a Retail Theft.  You could be guilty of a Retail Theft by doing more than just walking out of the store with merchandise that you did not pay for.  I want to talk a little bit about different ways that you can be guilty of Retail Theft.

False Returns:  This happens when you present a fake receipt or a gift card in which you claim to own merchandise that you are returning to the store in return for cash, credit, or a gift card.

Bond-Hearing-200x300Over the weekend I read an article about a 60 minutes episode about Cook County Jail and Sheriff Tom Dart.  Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is in charge of running Cook County Jail, the largest single-site jail in the United States.  After I finished reading the article, I was struck by some of the information contained in the article and wanted to pass along some of the things that I learned.  We are used to seeing news stories about inmates who are released from prison after spending years behind bars for a crime they did not commit.  We become conditioned to believe that this is all that is wrong with our criminal justice system. But this article about Cook County jail is much more disturbing because it represents a systematic injustice, legal and moral, with our criminal justice system.

The current jail population at Cook County Jail is approximately 7,500 prisoners a day. Roughly 70,000 inmates a year pass through Cook County Jail. A very large portion of the inmates who enter Cook County Jail stay there because they are unable to come up with the bond money needed to be released from jail. Many times, the amount of money needed for them to get out of jail is very small. It could be as little as $100, but because they don’t have the money to post the bond, they cannot get out of jail. The overwhelming majority of the inmates who have a low bond pose little or no danger to society. They are there because they were caught with a small amount of drugs or because they tried to steal something from a store. Meanwhile the people that pose a danger to society, like gang members who are caught with illegal guns, are able to post bond because their gang puts up the money and they are out on the street.

A troubling statistic from this article is that last year, 1,024 inmates spent their entire prison term in Cook County Jail. While that is troubling, in and of itself, the following statistic is shocking. An equal number of inmates spent an extra 222 years in custody in Cook County Jail. It would be understandable if this was because the inmates were violent or posed a danger to society. But keep in mind that a large percentage of the inmates in Cook County Jail are there because they cannot afford to post low bonds. If somebody has a low bond it is probably because what they are being charged with is a minor offense and they have little or no criminal background. This is a very troubling statistic.

Violation-of-an-Order-of-ProtectionThe main difference between a Civil Order of Protection and a Criminal Order of Protection has to do with how the person who is seeking the Order of Protection goes about getting the Order of Protection entered, or issued.  An Order of Protection is a court order which bars someone from having at least some contact with another person.  The typical Order of Protection forbids a person from being anywhere near another person or forbids them from being at a certain location or attempting to make any contact whatsoever with the other person.  It’s really the only way that the legal system can offer protection from bodily harm from another person.  It’s a piece of paper that has no power in and of itself to prevent anything from happening.  The only thing that the Order of Protection does is allow the police to arrest someone if they are found to be in Violation of the Order of Protection.

Let’s first talk about a Civil Order of Protection. The process for obtaining a Civil Order of Protection is usually started by the person who is seeking to be protected themselves.  They file a Petition with the court requesting that a Civil Order of Protection be entered.  The initial order can be entered without the person against whom the Order of Protection is sought to be entered without even having been served with the petition.  When the Court is presented with the Petition, the court will review it to see if there’s a basis for an order being entered.  The Court may question the person seeking the Order of Protection, known as the Petitioner, and if the Court is satisfied that there’s good cause for the entry of an Order of Protection, the Court will enter an Emergency Order of Protection that will only be good for 14 days.  The Court will set a Court date and the Petitioner will have to serve the Respondent, the person who the Petitioner is seeking to be protected from, with a copy of the Emergency Order of Protection.  At the next Court date a hearing will be held for the judge to determine whether a permanent Order of Protection should be entered.

Now let’s talk about a Criminal Order of Protection.  A Criminal Order of Protection arises out of a criminal case.  The party asking for the entry of an Order of Protection is usually the prosecutor in the criminal case.  Most Criminal Orders of Protection arise out of a Domestic Battery case.  But I have seen them in Stalking and Harassment cases.  What typically happens is that at the first court date, usually the Bond Hearing, the prosecutor will ask the judge to enter a Temporary Order of Protection forbidding the defendant from being anywhere near the victim and from having any contact with the victim.

Domestic-BatteryLast week I had a trial for a Domestic Battery at the Bridgeview Courthouse in Cook County. My client had no criminal record whatsoever. He had been charged with committing a Domestic Battery on an ex-girlfriend (victim) during a consensual sexual encounter. The facts of the case were very strange. At no time did I think that my client was guilty of the Domestic Battery. As a matter of fact, I tried to alert the prosecutor to the weakness of their case and tried to get them to drop the case rather than force their witness to take the stand and be exposed to a potentially damaging cross examination.  Let me tell you about the facts of the case and how easy it is to get caught up in something that you had no idea could possibly become a criminal matter.

Last year, my client met the victim on Tinder. Tinder is a social media site that people frequently use to “hook up”. My client dated the victim for about 2 months. They both agreed to end the relationship but continued seeing each other, on and off, to have sex for several months after they broke up.  The day of the alleged crime, the victim contacted my client to set up another consensual sexual encounter. My client, and the victim, agreed that the victim would come over to my client’s condo after work. When my client came home from work, he left the door to his condo unlocked and went to the bathroom. The victim arrived and walked into the condo. After a short while, the victim and my client sat on the couch to watch TV. They started kissing and then had sex on the couch for a few minutes. The victim terminated the sex and proceeded to cuddle with my client for several minutes. The victim decided to go home, so she got up from the couch and grabbed her clothes. As the victim was gathering her clothes, my client grabbed her from behind so that he could take her into the bedroom because he wanted to continue with the sex. The victim struggled to get loose from my client and told him that she wanted to go home. She laughed at him and made a humorous comment.  She tried to gather her clothes again and my client grabbed her once more from behind and a short struggle ensued. Once again, the victim told my client that she didn’t want to have any more sex with him and wanted to go home. At that point, my client complied and went back to the couch. The victim gathered her clothes and went into the bathroom. She testified that she locked the door to the bathroom and put her clothes on. She also testified that while she was in the bathroom my client was not banging on the door nor was he yelling at her. Yet, she testified that she feared him and was frantic to get dressed so she could go home. She testified that after she exited the bathroom she went back to the living room, where the couch was, and saw my client laying on the couch. She asked him if he wanted his clothes and my client said that he did not want to get dressed. The complaining witness went into the kitchen and retrieved a beverage that she had brought with her to the condo and exited the condo. She testified that she ran down the stairs and quickly entered her car.

The victim testified that when she entered her vehicle she immediately placed a call to her Therapist. She could not get a hold of her Therapist so she left a voicemail. At some point, before she got home, she testified that she spoke to her Therapist on the telephone. She then drove home and spoke to her mother. She also spoke to her neighbor, a former police officer. She testified that she told both of them what happened. After she finished speaking to everyone she decided to go to the police and report that she had been the victim of a Domestic Battery. The complaining witness gave the reporting officer a detailed description of the events that happened at my client’s condominium that night.

Preliminary-HearingMany of the people that I have represented in my 25 years of being a criminal defense lawyer have no criminal record and have little, or no experience, with the criminal justice system. For many people, the thought of facing criminal charges can be a daunting and scary experience.  In addition to providing legal services in court, one of my main responsibilities as a criminal defense lawyer is to explain the legal process to my clients and to make sure they fully understand what is happening, and what will be happening in the future.

If you are being charged with a misdemeanor offense, a bond will be set at the police station by the police department.  Depending on what you are being charged with, and your criminal record, the Bond could be anywhere from an I-Bond, or a minor cash Bond.  An I-Bond is commonly known as a Signature Bond.  With an I-Bond, no money needs to be posted.  You just sign the Bond paper promising to appear in court and to not commit any criminal offenses. An exception to this is if you are charged with a Domestic Battery.  You may be taken to court for a bond hearing if you are charged with a Domestic Battery, especially if the State will be seeking an Order of Protection or wants the Court to set special conditions of Bond which forbids you from making contact with the Complaining Witness.  But if you are charged with a felony, you will be brought to court as soon as possible, and the judge will set a Bond. The first court date after your Bond Hearing will be a Preliminary Hearing date.  I want to take this opportunity to explain what a Preliminary Hearing is and what will happen at the Preliminary Hearing.

Basically, a Preliminary Hearing is a short hearing before trial, before a judge, to determine whether probable cause exists to believe that a crime was committed and that you are the one that committed that crime. Probable cause, for Preliminary Hearing purposes, is different than what people commonly consider probable cause to be.  For Preliminary Hearing purposes, probable cause simply means that the judge is convinced by a preponderance of the evidence, more probably true than not true, that there’s enough evidence to charge you with a crime and eventually put you on trial for that crime.

DUIIllinois has some very strict laws, rules, and regulations involving DUI’s. I frequently receive questions from clients asking about whether they should or should not take a breathalyzer when they are requested to by a police officer.  There is no simple yes or no answer to that question. Whether someone who has been stopped for a DUI should submit to a breathalyzer test or not is a very complicated question that depends on each case and the specific facts surrounding each case.  All I can do is explain what the legal consequences of a refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test would be and what could happen if you take a breathalyzer test and you fail that test.

Let’s talk about what a breathalyzer test is.  The only way to test how much alcohol is in somebody’s blood is with a blood test.  A breathalyzer test measures the amount of alcohol in your breath.  That reading gives a very accurate estimate of how much alcohol is in your blood.  A breathalyzer test is performed by blowing into a machine which registers a reading.  The results from that machine have been accepted in court as reliable and admissible evidence in DUI cases throughout Illinois.

Under Illinois Law, driving is a privilege not a right.  Therefore, when you are given a driver’s license in Illinois you give the police the implied consent to ask you to submit to a breathalyzer test when you are requested to do so by a police officer.  You can refuse to submit to a breathalyzer test when requested to take one but the consequences are very severe.  Under Illinois law, if you refuse to submit to a breathalyzer test your license will be suspended for one year.  If you are taken to a hospital the police can force the hospital to draw your blood to measure the amount of alcohol in your blood.  That’s part of the implied consent that the law implies that you gave the police when you were issued a driver’s license in Illinois.