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Archive for the ‘Illinois criminal defense lawyer’ tag

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.

Could Marijuana Possession be Decriminalized?

March 18th, 2014 at 12:35 pm

marijuana decriminalization, marijuana possession, Illinois criminal law, criminal defense, laweyr attorneyIn an effort to address the problem of ever-growing prison populations, a recent article reported that an Illinois lawmaker is proposing lower penalties for offenses involving small amounts of some drugs. The proposal includes decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession in favor of punishing the offense with a citation comparable to a traffic ticket.

The Proposal

The proposed change, coming from Rep. Michael Zalewski, a Democrat from Riverside, is part of a recent interest in realigning the criminal justice system in order to decrease the population of inmates in prisons across Illinois. He said his plan would also include lessening the penalty for possession of small amounts of other drugs, including heroin and cocaine. The proposal as it relates to marijuana would impart a $250.00 fine for the first such offense.

According to Zalewski, the plan would not only reduce prison populations, but would also lessen the burden for law enforcement labs to test substances related to criminal cases that may get dismissed anyway. He has been a recent advocate of a number of bills aimed at reducing sentences for certain criminal offenses, in spite of his previous efforts at tougher penalties for violations of gun control laws.

Committee Approval

Although the Judiciary Committee heard Zalewski’s proposals, they did not take a vote. Zalewski is beginning to gauge support for the proposals by speaking with colleagues, and has not yet stated when he will ask for panel approval.

Prison Overpopulation

Currently, there are 49,000 individuals imprisoned in Illinois’ correctional system, which was built to hold just 32,000. State prisons regularly house about 4,500 more inmates than they are suited to hold. The proposals outlined above, as well as other similar measures, take aim at those crimes that account for a large number of inmates in state prison. Not only would the measures allow for the reduction of the prison population, but would also pave the way for harsher penalties to be enforced for more serious crimes, such as gun offenses, something Zaleski also supports.

Not only does the overpopulation of prisons pose the realistic problem of space, but also the financial and budgetary problem of overspending on the prison system. Some estimate that the amount spent is about $1.3 billion – which is a great sum, but not even enough to adequately meet the needs of the inmates currently in the system.

Working out the Details

Zaleski refrained from describing the measure as the decriminalization of marijuana, the details of which are still being defined. He said it was more of a restructuring of the criminal justice system as it related to these offenses.

Even though the proposal has not been put into legislation yet, representatives from the narcotics bureau of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office said those arrested for possession of about an ounce of marijuana would face a $250.00 fine for their first offense. Previously, they would have faced up to one year of incarceration. Possession crimes involving heroin, cocaine, or other drugs will have a three-year prison term associated with them instead of four.

Drug crimes can be serious offenses. It is beneficial to have an experienced criminal defense attorney in Illinois to protect your rights. Contact the attorneys at the Law Offices of Christopher M. Cosley today for a consultation about your specific matter.

Proposed Law Targets Actions of Police Dispatchers

March 13th, 2014 at 12:19 pm

police, new law, Illinois, criminal defense, criminal lawyer, criminal attorney criminal defense lawyerIt is widely known that those who work in law enforcement are held to relatively high standards. Police officers are responsible for upholding the law, and for conducting themselves in an honest way in investigations and when communicating with suspects. While many may expect the same level of professionalism from those who work closely with law enforcement though, the fact of the matter is that most public employees whose positions overlap with law enforcement are not duty-bound to uphold the law.

 Different Legal Consequences

Police dispatchers regularly fulfill their duties, much like the police officers with whom they team, to serve and protect members of the public. However, they, unlike members of law enforcement, cannot be prosecuted for certain violations, such as revealing information to suspects regarding investigations targeting them. A recent article suggests that this may change if Illinois enacts a proposed law from Senator Dave Koehler from Peoria, which passed to the Senate last week.

 Proposed Law

Senator Koehler’s reasoning behind the measure is that it is inconsistent to hold the individuals who are responsible for supporting the police to a lower standard than the officers themselves regarding upholding the law. Under the proposed law, any dispatcher or other law enforcement agency employee who communicates information obtained through their employment, which delays or prevents the investigation of a crime or the apprehension or prosecution of a suspect, will be guilty of official misconduct. The crime will be considered a Class 3 felony.

 Past Actions have Gone Unpunished

Such a scenario played out a few years ago in a suburb of Chicago, when a dispatcher tipped off a local drug dealer that police officers were in the vicinity of his residence. Although the dispatcher was originally found guilty of official misconduct, the Illinois Supreme Court later overturned her conviction on the basis that no law covered the offense.

In another case, a former custodian in Pekin City was accused of collecting information from the police department regarding meth-related investigations in 2010 and 2011 during the course of her employment there and later sharing the information with suspects. She was charged in federal court for this, as well as for participating in a meth sales conspiracy, and is set to go to trial in May. She has not been charged on the state level, however, since no charge exists to address her actions.

It is the hope that the proposed law would effectively act to fill that gap in state law, and be enforced to cover the situations involving law enforcement employees and dispatchers described above.If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in the state of Illinois, an experienced Illinois criminal defense attorney can defend your rights. Contact us today for a consultation.

Effects of Heroin Addiction in Illinois

March 6th, 2014 at 12:02 pm

heroin addiction, Illinois, drug abuse, lawyer, attorney, criminal defense, Chicago drug crimeAccording to an article recently published by the Chicago Sun-Times, the problem of heroin addiction in the state of Illinois has gotten to the level of requiring immediate attention in order to avoid more fatalities. While it seems that law enforcement is doing its part, as evidenced by the recent arrest of a notorious drug lord from Mexico, the problem is so large that law enforcement alone cannot be responsible for solving it.

The Problem is Everywhere

Heroin use is a problem throughout the state of Illinois. Last year, DuPage County reported 46 deaths related to heroin – a record in the county. Another incident in Madison County involved the discovery of three victims of likely overdoses, all discovered within five hours of one another. A couple in Riverside, who were thought to be using the drug, were found in a car stalled on railroad tracks.

More than that, heroin use spans the country. The Office of National Drug Control Policy reported that there was a 21 percent increase in fatal drug overdoses across the nation between 2006 and 2010. Other states, including Vermont and Wisconsin, are attempting to create policies and procedures to deal with the epidemic and get it under better control.

DuPage County’s Response

Just days ago, officials in DuPage County attended an event to discuss the heroin epidemic in the state. A few weeks prior, county officials proposed a plan aimed at decreasing heroin use by addressing prescription drug abuse, and by adding penalties to statutes that enable the state to prosecute gang leaders. The plan would include using any additional revenue to help fund addiction treatment programs. Another proposal involved making the drug naloxone more readily available, which, if administered quickly enough, can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose. An anti-heroin task force is planned that will hold meetings in the Chicago area in the spring.

Problems Posed by Heroin Use

The reality is that the current criminal system, which relies on criminal penalties alone, is not serving to address the underlying issue. Heroin use is rampant across all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. Many people who had become addicted to prescription drugs and painkillers turned to heroin because the drug is often easier and cheaper to obtain than others.

The article states that heroin from Mexican drug cartels is saturating the market for the drug in Chicago. This version of the drug is able to be snorted, as opposed to injected, and has an increased risk of fatality associated with it since some of it is laced with fentanyl, which makes the drug stronger and more dangerous.

While it seems that officials in Chicago are working to address the issue of drug addiction, many would say there is much work to be done. If you or someone you know has been charged with a drug-related crime in the state of Illinois, an experienced Illinois criminal defense attorney can help defend your case and may be able to assist you in getting treatment. Contact us today for a consultation.

Withdrawing a Guilty Plea

February 28th, 2014 at 12:29 pm

criminal hearing, homicide, murder, Illinois criminal defense lawyer, guilty pleaThe Chicago Tribune recently ran an article about a defendant who withdrew his guilty plea in connection with a murder charge. The 22-year-old man, from Aurora, had pled guilty to murdering a woman in October of 2005, when he was just 14 years old.

 Appellate Court Decision

The hearing came in light of last year’s appellate court decision, which stated that the defendant’s 2009 guilty plea was invalid, as it provided for a 45-year minimum sentence, and not the 35-year sentence he should have received as the result of entering a plea to first-degree murder. The Illinois Supreme Court declined to hear the case when county prosecutors appealed the appellate court’s decision.

 New Criminal Process

There was a short court hearing on February 11th, which served to reset the criminal process against the defendant in light of the appellate court opinion allowing him to withdraw his plea. It was the first court hearing since the decision.

 Case Background

The defendant’s current charges stem from the murder of an Aurora woman during a home invasion on October 31, 2005. Her body was discovered by law enforcement two months later in Batavia Township. The Defendant, who is a Sudanese immigrant and had a significant juvenile record prior to this incident, was originally arrested for the murder in 2007. When he pled guilty in 2009, he almost immediately tried to withdraw his plea.

 Illinois Law Regarding Withdrawing a Guilty Plea

According to the law in Illinois, certain procedural and legislative requirements have to be met in order for a defendant in a criminal case to  withdraw a guilty plea. A motion to withdraw a guilty plea must be filed within 30 days of the date it is entered. This time limit must be met in order for a judge to even consider hearing the motion.

If the Judge agrees to hear the motion, the defendant must show that the guilty plea was not made knowingly, intelligently, or voluntarily. This is usually difficult to do, as criminal procedure usually requires the defendant to be fully informed of the rights he or she is waiving as the result of pleading guilty and the consequences of doing so. Established case law has stated that guilty pleas will not be withdrawn unless it is necessary to correct a manifest injustice.  Therefore, it is usually exceedingly difficult to successfully withdraw a guilty plea once it is entered.

All that being said, while it is difficult to withdraw a guilty plea, it is not impossible, as the case previously mentioned demonstrates. An experienced Illinois criminal defense attorney can advise you of your rights and likelihood for success in light of the facts of your particular case. If you or someone you know is charged with a crime in the state of Illinois, contact us today.

Illinois Lawmakers take Aim at Revenge Porn

February 22nd, 2014 at 12:03 pm

social media & Revenge PornThe increased and widespread use of technology and social media has brought up a whole new host of issues regarding conduct online. While we still struggle to define appropriate online behavior in some aspects, it can be argued that perhaps the law is struggling to keep up with actions that occur on the web. When discussing the damaging effects of online behavior, we often hear key words such as “cyber bullying” and “sexting,” but what it really comes down to may be described as harassment in the legal arena.

What is Revenge Porn?

Lawmakers in Illinois are taking notice and taking action to address these problems. According to an article recently published by the Chicago Tribune, the state is taking steps to give victims of revenge porn an outlet in court. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, revenge porn refers to the act of an individual posting an inappropriate photo or video of their ex-boyfriend or girlfriend online as a way to get back at them after the failure of the relationship.

Proposed Law

Lawmakers in Illinois are trying to prevent such an embarrassing event by proposing a new measure that would make it illegal to post such content on the internet without the consent of the subject of the photo or video. Senator Michael Hastings, who is sponsoring the proposal, compared the publishing of such explicit material to harassment, and said it was the worst kind of cyber bullying.

Proponents say the law is necessary because current Illinois statutory law fails to provide criminal sanctions as a consequence for such behavior. The state’s statutes do not protect the victims of such crime, who most likely consented to the photo or video initially, as the image was recorded in the context of a private, trusting relationship.

The proposed law would make it a felony to post nude and sexually explicit images of another party without their permission to do so. In addition, under the law, it would be a crime to request a fee in order to remove such images from a website. The penalties associated with the law would include a maximum of three years in prison and a $25,000.00 fine. However, judges would maintain discretion to order a lesser sentence if they thought doing so was appropriate.

Opposition

Those who are opposed to the law argue that making such action a criminal offense would infringe on the constitutional right to free speech. Specifically, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois takes the position that the state’s civil laws may be more appropriate to address such behavior, and should be considered as a solution to the issue before the activity is made a crime under state criminal law.

Criminal law and procedure may change more than the average public person is aware. That is why engaging the services of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in Illinois is so important. Contact us today if you have been charged with a crime, and let us protect your rights.

Expungement in Illinois

February 19th, 2014 at 12:05 pm

expungement IMAGEMany people have likely made a poor decision or two at one point in their life. Unfortunately for some, these mistakes may have legal consequences. The good news is that in the state of Illinois, those charged with certain crimes may be able to get the charges expunged from their criminal records. As echoed in an article by World News Report, individuals in Illinois can obtain an expungement in order to avoid facing the consequences of their poor judgment for the rest of their lives.

What is an Expungement?

An expungement means that a person’s records will be sealed from public access, which means that these records will only be available to view with an order form the court.

The article further explains that in Illinois specifically, an expungement means that the records will be physically destroyed or returned to the person seeking the expungement. Further, the person’s name will be removed from any public record or index in which it may have appeared in connection with the associated charges.

Why Obtain an Expungement?

Petitioning the court for an expungement of a prior arrest or conviction is almost always advisable for those who qualify for one. Having a criminal record can affect a person’s ability to get a job, obtain a lease, or purchase a home, even if the offense occurred decades ago.

If the crime appears when an employer conducts a background check or on a landlord’s rental application, the person may be denied a job or a lease because of the conviction or arrest.

However, if that person obtained an expungement, the criminal activity would not be accessible by members of the public.

Not all Crimes are Eligible for Expungement

According to the law in the state of Illinois, certain criminal offenses cannot be expunged or sealed from public access. They include, among others:

  • Sex crimes involving minors;
  • Minor traffic offenses;
  • Certain crimes graded as felonies.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Illinois and you have questions about your eligibility for an expungement, it is advisable to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney about your situation. An attorney can discuss the specific facts of your case with you and determine if your case is able to be expunged or sealed from public view.

If you are eligible for an expungement, a criminal defense attorney can help you file a proper petition with the appropriate court. Contact us today to discuss your case and let us evaluate whether you can benefit from an expungement.

Should Juveniles Serving Life without Parole be Revisited?

February 12th, 2014 at 1:00 pm

juvenile crime IMAGEA United States Supreme Court opinion from 2012 stated that sentencing juvenile defendants to mandatory life without parole amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, and such sentences were therefore declared unconstitutional. A local Chicago media outlet recently published an article about the ruling and its effects on past juvenile offenders.

The Court’s opinion and the related sentence imposed does not equally affect all juvenile offenders. Illinois was just one of a number of states that, in the 1980s and 1990s, imposed harsher penalties on those juveniles who were found guilty of violent crimes. The old sentencing rules made the sentence mandatory, which meant that a judge had much less leeway in considering circumstantial factors in imposing a sentence. Now, in light of the Supreme Court decision, such life sentences are no longer mandatory, and while they are not completely prohibited, should rather be used only in extreme cases.

The opinion has also inspired many juvenile offenders, who have long since been sentenced and their time for appeals passed, to petition the proper courts for hearings to be re-sentenced. At least five of such requests have been granted by the Appellate Court in Illinois. When those cases are argued and decided, they will provide the groundwork for whether the Supreme Court’s opinion will retroactively apply to juvenile cases that were already closed.

In making the decision to apply the rule retroactively, attorneys say the Appellate Court will likely consider whether the fairness of the criminal justice system requires the change in procedure, or whether improving the system by implementing the change going forward is fair enough. Opponents say it is unlikely the ruling will be retroactively applied, while proponents seem confident it will, as it represents a matter of due process since juveniles would have been denied the benefit of counsel presenting mitigating factors at their sentencing hearings. A decision by the Appellate Court is expected by summer.

If the ruling is retroactively applied, it will bring with it a host of problems to be addressed. Hundreds of cases of juvenile offenders will have to be heard at re-sentencing hearings, which means witnesses and victims will have to testify again. Such cases will surely present complicated and emotional situations.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime as a juvenile in the Chicago area, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights. Contact us today for a consultation.

Backlog of Rape Kit Testing is a Problem Nationwide

February 7th, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Rape Kit Testing IMAGEThe Chicago Tribune recently reported on a story covering the delay in processing and sometimes complete failure of rape kits to be tested by law enforcement and lab workers across the country. The fear of many is that as a result of this failure, victims would not get justice and their attackers would remain free to rape them and potential other victims, as long as they were not in prison. As a result, many concerned citizens are forming organizations and getting involved in groups aimed at eliminating the backlog and coming up with alternative ways of testing rape kits and tracking them.

 Many advocates of the victims allege that the backlog in testing is attributed to the low priority that many sexual assault victims are given by law enforcement. Illinois was the first of four states to mandate the testing of rape kits, which it implemented in 2010. Now, the almost 4,100 kits that were untested at the time have been processed, some decades old. The completed kits were sent back to the appropriate local police departments for further action. The results made 927 matches in the national DNA database, giving law enforcement promising leads.

That law in Illinois gives police 10 business days to transfer completed rape kits to the state crime labs. The labs, in turn, have six months to process the kits. While the law is considered to be a step in the right direction, the conditions under which it must be followed are flexible: police compliance is voluntary and the time limit only applies to labs if they have enough staff and resources for administering the testing. State officials are monitoring the law and looking into how the process can be improved.

In the meantime, backlog problems will likely still exist because of cost, lab staffing, and tracking issues. This means some offenders may never be prosecuted, either because the kits were not tested or the relevant statute of limitations had expired by the time they were. The article reports a statistic echoing this fact. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network says that 97 percent of rapists are never incarcerated, due in large part to victims’ failure to report. They estimate that 40 of every 100 sexual assaults are reported to police.

Sexual assault crimes, including rape, are serious offenses that usually involve complicated legal issues that arise within the context of a criminal case. An experienced criminal defense attorney can protect your rights. Contact us today for a consultation.

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