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Chicago drug crimes defense attorneyDrug addiction continues to be a serious problem in Illinois and across the United States. Unfortunately, many of the laws and measures that have been enacted in the so-called “War on Drugs” over the last few decades have focused primarily on harsh penalties for drug offenders. While there is something to said for creating deterrents to criminal behavior, a lengthy prison sentence or hefty fine is likely to do little to solve the underlying issue of addiction. With that in mind, states around the country, including Illinois, have developed programs designed to help non-violent, drug-addicted offenders kick their destructive habits and focus on rehabilitating their lives.

Mandating Treatment

One of the most effective programs for drug-addicted offenders is known colloquially as Drug Court. The program may have a more specific title in each of the counties in which it has been established, but most Drug Courts—especially in Illinois—are similar in their goals and procedures. The importance of such programs has escalated in recent years with the continued concerns over methamphetamines and resurgence of heroin abuse as a nationwide epidemic. Many addicts will only get treatment if they are somehow coerced into doing so, and subsequent to an arrest, that is exactly the intent of Drug Courts. In most cases, the results of coerced treatment are the same, if not better, than voluntary treatment, making a strong case for the continuation of such programs.

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Chicago criminal defense attorneyThroughout the country, states and local jurisdictions have been looking for ways to help drug offenders turn away from a destructive lifestyle and toward becoming more productive members of society. Initiatives such as the Deferred Prosecution Program in Cook County have shown great promise in rehabilitating non-violent offenders while helping them avoid lengthy prison sentences and other harsh criminal penalties. This week, a program with similar goals in a neighboring county began seeing results, as Will County Adult Redeploy Illinois recognized its first graduating class.

Adult Redeploy Illinois

Created as a diversion program for non-violent offenders, Adult Redeploy Illinois (ARI) was established by legislation in 2009 based on a similar program that has been used in the Illinois juvenile justice system for a number of years. The aim of ARI is to reduce the number of offenders being sent into the state’s prison system and to ease the associated burden on taxpayers.

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Chicago criminal defense attorneyWhen you have been charged with a crime—especially a non-violent crime such as drug possession—a criminal defense attorney will do everything he or she can to help you avoid a conviction. In some situations, however, the circumstances and the evidence against you may simply be too much. Or perhaps you really did possess illegal drugs or otherwise committed the crime of which you have been accused. While such a situation may seem hopeless, nothing could be further from the truth. There are several options that may be available to help minimize the penalties associated with your prosecution. One of the most common ways of reducing a sentence is by reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors.

What is a Plea Bargain?

A plea bargain or plea agreement is the result of a series of negotiations between prosecutors and a criminal defendant—usually handled through his or her attorney. In many cases, the negotiations also include a judge who has the authority to approve alternative sentencing options in advance. When developing a plea agreement, prosecutors will generally offer to lessen the defendant’s sentence by reducing the number or severity of the charges against the individual. Sometimes, a plea deal will even allow the defendant to participate in deferred prosecution or other diversionary programs instead of receiving a standard conviction and sentence. In return, the defendant will usually need to plead guilty or no contest to the agreed upon charges.

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Chicago criminal defense attorneyIn 2013, Illinois lawmakers—led by State Representative Lou Lang, D-Skokie—passed legislation to create an experimental medical marijuana program in the state. The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act was signed by then-Governor Pat Quinn so that state officials could determine the effectiveness of allowing marijuana to be used in the treatment of certain illnesses and ailments. Supporters of the program were excited by the idea that eligible patients could get relief without fear of prosecution on charges related to the possession or consumption of marijuana.

Good Intentions

As a pilot program, the initial medical marijuana measure contained a sunset clause, meaning that the law would automatically be repealed four years after it went into effect on January 1, 2014. If the program was a success, new legislation would be needed to make it permanent.

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Chicago retail theft attorneysWhen you think about shoplifting, there is a good chance you picture an individual surreptitiously sneaking an item or two under his or her jacket or into a handbag. This type of retail theft certainly does occur and retailers lose billions of dollars each year to small-time shoplifters. Sometimes, however, shoplifting can be a much bigger operation—even rising to the level of organized crime. Such was the case involving a seemingly well-to-do couple living on Chicago’s North Shore, as they were recently sentenced in federal court for running a large-scale retail theft ring.

Federal Investigation

According to court records, federal authorities followed the couple as they, along with their children, embarked on a four-day, multi-state stealing spree. The couple reportedly went into stores like Toys R Us, Barnes & Noble, and Starbucks, coming out with the wife’s dress “seemingly bursting at the seams,” as she attempted to hide stolen merchandise. The husband, wife, and their eldest daughter were arrested in March of 2014. In 2015, they reached a plea agreement with federal authorities in which they admitted to stealing more than $9.5 million in merchandise over the last 12 years.

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Chicago criminal defense attorneyShoplifting, along with other forms of retail theft, cost retailers billions of dollars each year. It is perfectly reasonable for retail companies to take serious measures in protecting themselves from these types of losses. Sometimes, however, overzealous store personnel can focus their attention on the wrong individuals—people who have done nothing but come into the store to shop. A recent example in the Chicago suburb of Algonquin demonstrates how problematic false accusations of shoplifting can be, especially when social media becomes involved.

Targeting a 12-Year Old

Late last month, a 12-year-old girl and her 13-year-old friend were dropped off at the Target location in Algonquin, Illinois, to do some Christmas shopping. According to reports, the girls walked around the store for about an hour and a half, and each of them bought a few things. The girls say that a little while after they made their purchases—while they were waiting for their ride—store employees began following them. The 12-year-old told news outlets that one the employees accused them of shoplifting and told them to put back the items in their bags.

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Chicago criminal defense attorneysOver the last three decades or so, the approach to crime in the United States has changed dramatically. In the past, communities have tried to fight criminal behavior with harsh penalties and long prison sentences. While the overall crime rate in the United States is lower than it was 20 or 30 years ago, the hardline approach to crime has—in the eyes of many—only served to fill our prisons and perpetuate a criminal lifestyle among convicted offenders. In an effort to stop the cycle of crime, Cook County introduced a program in 2011 that allows certain individuals accused of shoplifting, retail theft, and certain other non-violent crimes to avoid a conviction and prevent them from falling into a criminal lifestyle.

Deferred Prosecution Program

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office developed the Deferred Prosecution Program (DPP) as an alternative to traditional conviction and sentencing for adults charged with certain felonies. As a diversionary program, the DPP is intended to address the issues that led the person to commit the offense and to help them modify their behavior to avoid future crimes. To be considered for Deferred Prosecution, a criminal suspect must:

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Chicago criminal defense attorneysRetail theft in the form of shoplifting is one of the most common crimes in the United States. It occurs so often that many retailers frequently do not even report incidents to the police because full participation in every alleged shoplifter’s prosecution would be impossible. Of course, when a shoplifter steals merchandise of a particularly high value, retailers are more likely to stay involved. According to Illinois law, stealing retail merchandise valued at $500 or more may constitute a felony offense. A recent announcement by Chicago’s top prosecutor, however, indicates that a significant change is coming regarding how Cook County will pursue felony charges for shoplifting.

New $1,000 Threshold

This past November, Kim Foxx was elected to serve as the Cook County State’s Attorney after beating the incumbent Anita Alvarez in March’s Democratic primary. As one of her first major policy decisions, Foxx announced in December that she was amending prosecution guidelines for retail theft charges in Cook County. According to the Chicago Tribune, she has instructed county prosecutors that charges for retail theft, including shoplifting, should remain misdemeanors unless the value of the stolen property exceeds $1,000 or the defendant has 10 or more prior felony convictions.

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Chicago criminal In a recent post on this blog, we discussed in detail how the approach to marijuana has evolved in recent years in the state of Illinois. Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed a measure to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, taking low-level possession of the drug from a potential felony to a civil offense comparable to a parking ticket. For many, the new law is a welcome change, as, under the previous statutes, a person could be prosecuted for low-level drug possession just for riding in the same car as another person with marijuana in his or her possession.

The new law, however, has also created a number of questions, particularly in regard to how law enforcement officers approach an investigation into possible drug possession. With low-level possession of marijuana no longer considered a crime, could drug sniffing dogs be largely out of job?

Reasonable Suspicion, Probable Cause, and Drug-Sniffing Dogs

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Chicago criminal defense attorneyIn June 1971—following the cultural and sexual revolutions of the 1960s—President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs. Over the next several years, the Nixon administration dramatically increased the size and scope of federal anti-drug agencies and began pushing for harsh sentences for even non-violent drug offenders. In the decades since, the United States government and others around the world have continued to fight against drugs, locking up millions and creating a thriving black market for illegal substances of all kinds. In many states, including Illinois, a person can be arrested just for riding in the same car as a person in possession of drugs.

Time for Change

After 45 years, however, there is growing pressure throughout the country for a new approach to America’s drug concerns. Perhaps the most telling indication of the evolution that is taking place is the national attitude toward marijuana. While the federal Drug Enforcement Agency continues to consider marijuana a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act—alongside drugs like heroin and LSD—individual states are taking action on their own. A Schedule I drug is one that has no currently accepted medical use, yet 28 states and the District of Columbia have created legal medical marijuana programs. Following this year’s general election, there are even six states that have legalized recreational use of the drug.

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Chicago criminal defense attorneyIn last week’s post on this blog, we talked a little bit about the two different types of drug possession. We discussed that actual possession refers to having illegal drugs on your person or in your immediate vicinity while constructive possession refers to the presence of illegal drugs in your home or car. The difference in the two types of possession is a key point in determining whether you could face criminal consequences if a guest or passenger brings illegal drugs into your home or car, but it is not the only consideration. Your knowledge of the situation is also a factor; you cannot stop what you do not know is happening.

Knowledge of the Drug’s Presence

The Illinois Controlled Substance Act provides that it is illegal for a person to knowingly possess a prohibited substance. “Knowingly,” however, is very important part of the law. In seeking a conviction, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you knew that the drugs were present, whether they were found in your car, your home, or in a purse or backpack. Depending upon the situation, proving your knowledge can be very difficult.

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Chicago criminal defense attorneyIf you have ever watched the reality/documentary show COPS, you have probably heard many of the typical claims a suspect often makes when he or she is found to be in possession of what looks like illegal drugs. “That’s not mine,” “I have no idea where that came from,” or “My friend must have left that in my car.” While such excuses ring extremely hollow, there may be situations in which the driver of a vehicle is not aware that one of his or her passengers has cocaine or ecstasy in his or her possession. (Possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana was recently decriminalized in Illinois, making marijuana a less likely candidate for this type of case.) If you are a driver in such a situation, could you be responsible for the drugs your friend is carrying?

There is not a simple answer to that question. As with most areas of the law, it depends entirely on the circumstances of the situation. Important elements include where the drugs are being carried or hidden and whether you really did know that drugs were present in your car. Over the next few weeks, we will look at the factors that can affect a drug possession charge, helping you get the information you need to protect your rights.

Two Types of Possession

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Chicago criminal defense attorneysAccording to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, all American citizens have the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizures conducted by the government—generally in the form of law enforcement officers. Since the amendment was ratified—along with the other nine amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights—in 1791, what constitutes “unreasonable searches and seizures” have been constant issues in the American court system. The issue is now being raised again by a man from McHenry County who was arrested following a search that found 17 pounds of marijuana in his vehicle, as he has filed a federal lawsuit alleging the search was illegal and that officers on the scene falsified their reports to justify the warrantless search.

Search, Arrest, and Charges

In late August, a 31-year-old man was pulled over in Woodstock for an expired registration. According to reports, the officer asked the driver if he would wait and allow a drug-sniffing dog to sniff around the vehicle. The man reportedly refused, yet the officer told the driver that he could not yet leave. A second officer arrived with the dog and the dog was run around the car. The dog indicated the presence of drugs and the police found a duffel bag containing about 17 pounds of marijuana in the trunk.

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Chicago criminal defense attorneyA large number of criminal cases—particularly those involving illicit drugs or illegal firearms—hinge on the evidence seized by law enforcement during searches. A police search of your property, including your home or car, with very few exceptions, requires one of two things: your voluntary consent or a properly obtained search warrant issued by a judge. It is almost never a good idea for you to allow a warrantless search of your property to proceed. At the same time, if the police have obtained a search warrant, you must be careful not to interfere with the search.

How Is a Search Warrant Issued?

According to the Illinois Constitution and Criminal Code, a search warrant can be issued by a judge on the basis of probable cause. Unlike many other states, Illinois allows a warrant to be issued “upon the written complaint of any person under oath or affirmation.” This means that a judge does not need to wait for a sworn affidavit from a law enforcement officer. Any private citizen can provide a sworn statement that identifies the person and/or place that should be searched and things that should be seized.

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Chicago criminal defense attorneyWhen you think of a police search, you may picture law enforcement officers going through your personal belongings looking for illegal drugs, unlicensed firearms, and other evidence that could be used against you in a criminal proceeding. This scenario is certainly one type of police search, and one that generally requires a warrant or your express permission, but there are other types of searches as well.

An Important Question

One of these is a type of search that our founding fathers could never have foreseen when drafting the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as it involves modern digital technology. Thus, two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court was tasked with determining whether the search of a person’s cell phone constitutes a search as defined by the Fourth Amendment and whether a warrant in necessary to allow such a search.

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Chicago criminal defense attorneysMost criminal charges related to drug possession and other drug crimes are largely based on the evidence found by law enforcement during a search of a suspect’s property—often a home or vehicle. The United States Constitution, however, places very strict limits on how and when law enforcement officers may conduct such searches so that the Fourth Amendment rights of the suspect are not compromised. In most cases, the police must obtain a warrant from a judge authorizing the search based on probable cause that the search will yield useful evidence, illegal weapons, or drugs. The other alternative is for the suspect to allow the search when requested, though granting such permission is not often a good idea.

As police investigatory techniques evolve, controversies often arise regarding whether creative procedures place a citizen’s constitutional rights in jeaopardy. Such was the issue before the United States Supreme Court several years ago as it considered the constitutionality of the use of drug-sniffing dogs on a suspect’s property before obtaining a search warrant.

Florida v. Jardines

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Chicago criminal defense attorneyThe moment a driver is pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence, he or she is often faced with a series of field and sobriety tests—including blood-alcohol content (BAC) tests—that ultimately help determine their fate in a court of law. Whatever the outcome, the driver found guilty of a DUI offense faces everything from the loss of driving privileges and serious prison time to hefty fines and community service. Depending on the severity of the conviction, the driver’s life can be affected for months, and even years following the DUI arrest.

The Science Behind the Breathalyzer

When so much rests on the results of sobriety tests, it is understandable that the reliability of such tests are questioned and challenged. So, just how reliable are breathalyzers? How do they work, and can they be trusted? In short, a breathalyzer is a modified infrared radiation spectrometer. That is a fancy term for a device that measures the absorption of organic compounds in the blood stream - in this case, alcohol. When you blow into a breathalyzer, the alcohol that is in your blood transfers through to your breath, and the device calibrates to read the concentration of alcohol in your system.

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Chicago DUI Defense attorneyIf you find yourself arrested for driving under the influence in the state of Illinois, refusing a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) test of any kind can mean severe consequences for you from that very moment. If you have not yet been arrested for DUI, however, refusing a BAC test may offer a few advantages as you move forward with the defense of your case.

You Have Decided to Refuse a Breathalyzer Test. Now What?

Refusing a test before you have been arrested and taken into custody prevents law enforcement from collecting any incriminating evidence against you in a court of law. At this stage, you still have the option to shape the course of your fate in terms of charges and the penalties that accompany them, but how you proceed with the refusal is important.

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Chicago DUI defense attorneyWhen you are pulled over for the suspicion of driving under the influence, you have the right to refuse to submit to a breathalyzer test if you wish to do so. There are, however, consequences to this option, just as there are consequences to submitting to the test if you have in fact been consuming alcohol. If you are conflicted as to whether to submit or not, it is helpful to familiarize yourself the penalties associated with both options before you make your decision.

Standard DUI Penalties in the State of Illinois

For starters, if you decide to submit to a breathalyzer test and are found to be over the legal limit, your driving privileges will be automatically suspended for six months for your first offense. The suspension doubles to one year for a second or subsequent test failure. The suspension applies regardless of whether prosecutors push for a conviction on DUI charges. If you are convicted of DUI, you are looking at a combination of the following:

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Skokie DUI Defense attorneyWhen you are pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence, one of the first challenges you will face is likely to be the officer’s request to submit to field sobriety and breathalyzer tests. If the officer has pulled you over, he has done so because he feels he already has probable cause based on behavior you exhibited on the road.

From that moment on, standard protocol—and Illinois law—allows the officer to ask you to step out of the car (if he deems it necessary) and to ask you to submit to these tests. Although the situation is an intimidating one, especially if you feel you are being falsely accused, you do have the right to refuse to submit to a breathalyzer test if you wish. If you do decide to take the test, though, it is important to understand the disadvantages that come with submitting.

Here are three ways submitting to a breathalyzer test can hurt you:

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