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Archive for April, 2014

Will Cook County Courtrooms Feature Cameras?

April 29th, 2014 at 12:33 pm

courtroom camera, Cook County courtrooms, justice system, courtroom camera in Cook CountyThe Cook County court system has been experiencing its fair share of problems lately. The latest issue facing Chief Judge Timothy Evans involves awaiting the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision on his request to allow the presence of cameras in the County’s courtrooms. He made that request over two years ago, and the Supreme Court has yet to provide its answer to his application.

Cook County Stands Alone

Cook County’s is the only application that the state’s high court has not approved among the counties who have applied for the permission. Cook County’s application was filed in January 2012, only a few days after the Supreme Court’s ruling that allowed audio and video recordings in courtrooms in certain circumstances.

While Cook County’s application has been pending, several cases were tried in the county that attracted public interest and probably would have produced requests for courtroom cameras. Such cases ranged from murder charges to alleged acts of terrorism.

Why has the Application not been Approved?

The Illinois Supreme Court has said it still needs to work out some issues with approving Cook County’s application as to how the program would function in the largest county in the state. The Court needs to decide whether cameras would be limited to one courtroom, a specific courthouse, or only used in criminal cases. A timetable has not been identified for the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision, but the Court intends to have a decision sooner rather than later.

Some of the Court’s reservation in making a decision may be attributable to the fact that not everyone in Cook County is on board with the application. Both the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office have concerns about the potential impact the cameras may have on testimony from victims and witnesses, especially those who fear they may be in danger because of their cooperation. In addition, there is the concern that allowing cameras will do nothing to help the public gain a better understanding of how the justice system works, but will give in to the media’s publicizing of scandalous cases.

While they realize that it is more than likely that cameras will eventually be allowed, they are hopeful that their concerns will be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Other counties’ circuit court judges who are participating in the program have approved every request from news outlets to have cameras at hearings, but judges who handle individual cases have later rejected the requests. The trial judges have the final say when making a decision regarding cameras in their courtrooms, and their decisions cannot be appealed.

Criminal Defense Attorney

Whether cameras will be allowed in Cook County courtrooms and under what circumstances remains to be seen. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, it is important to take steps to preserve your rights. You first step should be consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Christopher M. Cosley today for a consultation if you are facing criminal charges in Cook County.

Illinois Supreme Court Rules on Recorded Conversations

April 25th, 2014 at 12:19 pm

recorded conversation, privacy, divorce, child support, Illinois criminal defense lawyerThe Illinois Supreme Court recently ruled on the constitutionality of a statute regarding the legality of audio-recording a conversation. According to that law, any person who records a conversation without the consent of all parties involved in the conversation commits a crime. The law as written is broad, and defines a conversation as any oral communication between two or more people, regardless of whether one of the parties intends for the conversation to be private.

Facts of the Case

The facts giving rise to the case that was eventually heard by the Illinois Supreme Court involve a pro-se party to a child support proceeding. That party recorded a hearing that was held in open court during which a court reporter was not present. He also recorded a conversation between himself and opposing counsel prior to the start of the hearing. The recording was the pro-se party’s only record of the proceedings, in which he participated without the benefit of counsel or a court reporter keeping a record. He was charged with violating the aforementioned statute as a result of these actions.

Court’s Holding

The Illinois Supreme Court held that the above statute violates the First Amendment, as the law places a greater burden on speech than what is required to protect the interest in conversational privacy. The Court reasoned that the statute criminalizes a broad range of conduct regarding recording all conversations, even those that may not be considered private under any circumstances, including any conversation that is loud enough to be overheard by a third party, whether in a public or a private setting. Not all conversations implicate privacy interests, but the law as written failed to distinguish that fact, despite the fact that the law did contain several exceptions. The Court stated that recordings of truly private conversations would remain under the scope of the statute, as a narrower interpretation of law better serves the intent in enacting it.

In addition, the statute criminalized conduct that, seen another way, is perfectly legal. For example, if a person overheard a conversation without recording it and later quoted a portion of the communication in a publication, no law would be broken. However, if the same person merely recorded a conversation without having published any of its contents, the act would be a crime.

The Court concluded that the statute went too far in trying to protect a citizen’s interest in private conversations, and that it put more burden on free speech than necessary to serve its interests. The Court deemed the statute overly broad and, therefore, unconstitutional.

In addition to the enactment of new laws, laws that have been on the books change and are tested in Court regularly. While every member of the public may not be aware of this fact, it is an attorney’s responsibility to keep informed of new laws and changes to existing ones. That is why hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights is so important. If you have been charged with a crime in the Chicago area, contact the Law Office of Christopher M. Cosley today for a consultation.

Severe Consequences for Fatal DUI Driver

April 21st, 2014 at 2:22 pm

drug crimes, lawyer, attorney, criminal defense lawyer, criminal defense attorney, Illinois, ChicagoMany people struggle with addiction and as a result, many criminal cases involve the use, possession, or other acts that occur while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. While these cases alone are often troubling, combining the use of illicit substances and deciding to operate a vehicle can significantly compound a tragic outcome. Such was the case for a man who was recently sentenced to 12 years in prison after being responsible for a fatal accident while under the influence of drug and alcohol.

The Criminal Case

The defendant was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, heroin, and alprazolam at the time of the crash that occurred when he rear-ended a car, killing an 11-year-old boy and severely injuring another car occupant. The car struck was stopped in a line of other vehicles because of an earlier accident that occurred on the road.

After the accident, a urine analysis determined that the defendant had heroin and alprazolam in his system in addition to an illegal amount of alcohol while driving. He pleaded guilty late last year to two counts of aggravated DUI, which meant he would face a maximum sentence of 14 years of incarceration. He was sentenced last week to 12 years jail time, plus a $4,500 fine. Illinois law will require him to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence.

The Dangers of Heroin Use

This case represents just one of the dangers of heroin use. Not only was the incident that claimed the life of an 11-year-old completely preventable, but the defendant will have to deal with the consequences of his actions for the rest of his life. The prosecutor on the case used the defendant’s sentencing hearing as an opportunity to expand on the potential repercussions of using the drug. He stated that heroin in particular is a highly addictive drug that quickly leads users to uncontrollably self-destruct. While the issue of addiction is one that deserves attention, it takes a back seat when that addiction gives rise to criminal behavior that has permanent, devastating effects on other people.

This case represents one of the most tragic outcomes possible for those who participate in drug use. Cases involving the illicit use of drugs and alcohol commonly bring up addiction and treatment issues for the perpetrator of the crime, but in cases like these, where a life is lost senselessly, the needs of the defendant are often secondary to the interest in public safety. If you have been charged with a crime involving drugs, it is crucial to speak to a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney about your options and rights. The attorneys at the Law Office of Christopher M. Cosley have successful experience representing clients charged with drug offenses in the Chicago area. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Indirect Effects of Mandatory Minimum Sentences

April 17th, 2014 at 12:37 pm

mandatory minimum sentenceDefendants who are convicted of certain types of crimes – including murder, sex offenses, and drug crimes – face sentences that often include mandatory minimum incarceration time. These are minimum periods of incarceration that leave very little room for judicial discretion or leniency in their imposition, and can amount to decades spent in jail for the defendants.

The intended purposes that are achieved by such mandatory minimum sentences include deterrence, protecting the public, and punishment of the perpetrator. However, such lengthy mandatory sentences also have indirect effects that ripple outward from the defendant. As a recent article discussed, mandatory minimum sentences involve collateral damage to children of defendants who are forced to parent from prison.

A Wave of Incarcerated Parents

Just before the year 2000, there were almost 1.5 million minor children who had a parent that was incarcerated. That number represented an approximate 50 percent increase from the same statistic in 1991. The significant increase is arguable directly correlated to the emergence and imposition of mandatory minimum sentences, which caused an influx of incarcerated individuals as judges’ discretion was severely limited in handing out prison terms.

Mandatory minimums were a response to the rising crime rates and drug problems of the 1980s. The new sentencing structure applied to a wider array of crimes and increased penalties associated with them. This not only caused prison populations to dramatically rise over the next number of years, but also made costs significantly rise as well. The effects on children and families of those incarcerated were occurring simultaneously.

The Effect on Children and Families

Families are more vulnerable as the result of the policy shift towards mandatory minimums. Further, the opportunities and life chances that children of incarcerated parents may otherwise have are greatly reduced. This is not surprising, considering the fact that in cases such as these, the parent-child relationship is almost exclusively limited to phone interaction, if at all. While many credit the current low crime rates as a direct benefit of mandatory minimums, there is a detectable, however slight, shift in thinking when it comes to the harsh penalties.

Society seems to be viewing the policy and considering who should really be behind bars. One problem with mandatory minimum sentences is the ability to abuse them, especially in drug cases. Prosecutors often bolster the facts and weight of the illegal substances, which is directly tied to the length of a mandatory minimum sentence, in order to gain additional information, implicate others, and produce confessions. This could lead to extreme penalties for low-level associates with minor involvement in the drug trade, while other offenders, including rapists, kidnappers, and even murderers, serve just a fraction of the sentence.

Alternatives to Prison

The change in societal thinking toward mandatory minimum sentences is reflected in the formation of non-profit groups and organizations that focus on promoting alternatives to prison and organizing families of prisoners in order to advocate change. Such ideas are gaining popularity among politicians from both sides. The discussion is directed more toward being smart on crime as opposed to being unnecessarily tough on crime. The ideas are most relevant to non-violent offenders who do not have a long criminal history. Bills are being passed to lower mandatory minimums, even making the change retroactive.

Criminal Defense Attorney

Although the public seems to be increasingly in favor of once again giving judges discretion in imposing sentences, others argue that mandatory minimums are still appropriate in cases involving hardened criminals and the most serious crimes. If you are charged with a crime in the Chicago area, it is best to have an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Contact the Law Offices of Christopher M. Cosley today and schedule a consultation. We will work diligently to protect your rights.

The Basics of Shoplifting in Illinois

April 14th, 2014 at 4:20 pm

shoplifting, theft, retail theft, Illinois criminal law, criminal defense, lawyer, ChicagoShoplifting is typically a crime committed by citizens who follow the majority of other laws. The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention reported that between 2001 and 2006, roughly 10 million people were caught shoplifting. It is also estimated that almost 10 percent of all Americans shoplift.

The National Self Help & Support Center defines shoplifting as “theft or stealing of any kind from a retail store…taking merchandise from a retail store without paying for it or without intending to pay for it.”

What’s important to know is that shoplifting laws are different in every state and many laws also vary between each local jurisdiction as well. This post is specific to Illinois

If you have been caught shoplifting for the first time, you should call a criminal attorney to help you get a lighter penalty for your first offense. Many factors will be considered when the court decides what your sentence will be including if you have completed an education program and if you have shoplifted previously.

Information from the store where you have been accused of shoplifting will also be accounted for such as what you stole and what occurred when you were caught. Whether or not you had a proper ID when you were caught will also be included.

Another detail that is taken into account it how much you shoplifted, the value of the item(s) that were stolen. Typically, the offense is less serious and only considered a misdemeanor if it costs under $500. However, if the cost exceeds $500, the charge may escalate to a felony and have more serious consequences.

It is possible to get community service, be sentenced to an education program related to shoplifting, or some other form of sentence other than prison if the charge is not extreme.

Also note that you do not have to be the person who actually took the merchandise from the store to be charged if you are with someone when they have shoplifted. You may be seen as an assistant to the shoplifter.

Lastly, shoplifting occurs in many forms including changing the price tag on an item and buying for an incorrect price. You can also be charged for shoplifting if you are sampling foods that you have not paid for as you shop. For example, if you are walking through the produce section of a grocery store and you pick a few grapes off of the bunch and eat them that is a chargeable offense.

If you have been charged with shoplifting, contact a criminal attorney to help you in an Illinois court today. Even if you have been wrongly accused or the charge is small, an attorney can help you get a better or alternative sentence today.

Zero Tolerance in Illinois

April 10th, 2014 at 12:34 pm

zero tolerance, DUI, driving under the influence, Chicago criminal defense lawyer, DUI defense attorney in IllinoisAccording to United States law, no person under the age of 21 is allowed to consume alcohol and no person of any age is allowed to drive while intoxicated. Many times, adults will have a couple drinks and drive home safely, with a blood alcohol content below the legal level of 0.08. If a person under 21, however, is pulled over and is found to have a blood alcohol content of anything above 0.0, he or she can be charged.

This is called the zero tolerance policy of Illinois for underage drinking, says  CyberDriveIllinois.com. If a person under 21 is caught driving with even a trace of alcohol in his or her system, he or she will lose all driving privileges. Police officers can only pull over a person if he or she has probable cause.

Probable causes can include:

  • Driving over the speed limit;
  • Running a red/yellow light;
  • Not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign or four-way stop;
  • Not driving straight in the traffic lane.

The zero tolerance law says:

  • No person under the age of 21 can purchase, accept, possess, or consume alcohol. Penalties may be suspension/revocation of driving privileges;
  • Any person under 21 who receives court supervision as penalty will receive 3-month suspension of driving privileges;
  • Certain exemptions include religious and medical reasons;
  • All states have zero tolerance laws;
  • Other penalties may be fines, jail time, high insurance costs, mandatory alcohol evaluation and treatment, negative effects on driving record, and negative effects on job opportunities.

If you are caught with alcohol in your system while driving and you are under 21, your driving privileges will be suspended for 3 months. The suspension will be lengthened to one year for a second offense.

Although you can refuse to take a test to determine your blood alcohol level, you can be charged for refusal or failure to complete the test if you are under 21. The first time you refuse, your driving privileges will be suspended for 6 months and as a second offense, they will be suspended for 2 years.

Keep your driving record clean by not drinking and driving. If you have been caught drinking and driving, especially if you are under the age of 21, contact an Illinois criminal attorney to help you in court today.

Illinois Supreme Court Discusses Cook County Court System

April 7th, 2014 at 7:00 am

basic court services, Chief Judge Timothy Evans, Cook County court system, defense attorney, Illinois Supreme Court, overcrowded prisons, Supreme Courtrecent article revealed that the Illinois Supreme Court is not pleased with the way criminal suspects are handled in the Cook County court system. The Supreme Court’s report said that those who are charged with a crime needlessly await trial behind bars due to a lack of leadership within the county’s court system and a misunderstanding of basic court services.

Pretrial Services

The report mainly discussed pretrial services, which is a division within the adult probation department. The original purpose of this division was to alleviate the issue of overcrowded prisons by helping determine if defendants should be kept in custody or released pending trial. Pretrial officers are responsible for screening defendants who are brought in by Chicago police in order to make this determination.

The pretrial officers are tasked with interviewing the defendants about their criminal history, mental health, and living arrangements. Their report is then given to the bond court judge, who uses it to decide whether the defendant will appear at future hearings and avoid being arrested again if released. This contributes to the judge’s decision on bail.

The System’s Shortcomings

The report by the Supreme Court of Illinois revealed that the pretrial reports were often unreliable due to time constraints, access to information, and training issues which prevented the bond judge from relying on them too heavily, as they were limited and usually unverified.

Specifically, the report by the Court stated that the work done by pretrial services is either dismissed entirely, or relied on only minimally due to a lack of confidence in the credibility of such work.  This results in defendants, some of whom would have been released, remaining in jail while their case proceeds through the court.

Changes to Come

The Cook County Circuit Court Chief, Judge Timothy Evans, said that some of the problems with pretrial services are due to the department being understaffed and underfunded, although he did say that some changes to the department have already begun. While officials debate where the ultimate blame for the problem lies, one thing is certain: many men and women who have been charged with crimes have suffered because of the flawed system.

The Illinois Supreme Court’s report made 40 recommendations to improve pretrial services in Cook County, and plan to appoint an administrator to oversee the implementation of their plan. The plan focuses on making changes to the existing structure before approving the hiring of additional staff.

Criminal Defense Attorney

It is always imperative to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney when charged with a crime, but it is especially required when flaws in the court system are apparent. A dedicated defense attorney will not only protect your rights, but will fight for justice in instances where an issue in a criminal case may have otherwise been overlooked.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, contact the Law Offices of Christopher M. Cosley today for a consultation. We have successful experience representing clients in Cook County and the surrounding area.

“Ban the Box” Fight and Related Recidivism Risk

April 3rd, 2014 at 7:56 am

ban the box, criminal history, job application, felony, felon, discrimination, Chicago criminal defense lawyerIn filling out numerous types of documents and applications required for everyday things, many of us have likely noticed questions related to prior felony convictions. It may not be applicable to everyone, but for those who have to indicate a prior conviction, it could mean they are denied a job or a home and, as a result, a new start. A recent article discussed the discrimination associated with those who have a criminal record, as well as a campaign started by a prisoners’ rights organization aimed at removing the question from public employee forms.

Ban the Box

Ten years ago, the organization All of Us or None began the “Ban the Box” campaign, which 10 states and dozens of local jurisdictions have joined, in an effort to get any questions about prior felony convictions removed from public employee forms. They have had some success recently, which has propelled a movement at the national level to improve hiring opportunities for mostly non-violent criminal offenders.

States and Local Jurisdictions are Responding

In San Francisco, the mayor signed the Fair Chance Ordinance into law, which not only addressed the question appearing on public employee forms, but also on paperwork related to affordable housing and private employers with more than 20 employees. The idea is that punishing someone twice for the same past mistake is not a worthwhile goal.

The state of Illinois has implemented similar state laws regarding the removal of conviction history questions on public employment applications, and Chicago is among the jurisdictions mentioned above that have implemented ban the box policies.

Limits of Ban the Box

Although many states and jurisdictions may be taking actions in preventing initial disclosure of criminal history to avoid employers automatically disqualifying prior convicts for a given position, it will not prevent the information from being shared at all. Rather, many laws (like the one passed in California last year) will specify that the job applicant does not have to disclose criminal convictions until after a potential employer determines that the applicant otherwise meets the minimum qualifications required for the job.

Some States Hesitant to Follow Suit

While some jurisdictions in the south have implemented ban the box, no southern states have taken the step to pass or propose such a law going into effect. In order for the movement as a whole to be successful, the idea needs to be implemented in different places across the country, and also needs to include private employment practices, housing, and loan applications. The overarching theme of the movement is not only equal treatment, but also a shift in society’s thinking so that all people can hope for a better life.

Criminal Defense Attorney

There have been numerous issues involving criminal justice and improvements to the system in the United States that have developed lately. An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to help you not only in protecting your rights in court, but in giving you the best chance of improving your life going forward. Contact the attorneys at the Law Offices of Christopher M. Cosley today for a consultation if you have been charged with a crime in Chicago or the surrounding area.

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