Articles Posted in Bond Hearings/Preliminary Hearings

social-imageKim Foxx was sworn in as the new Cook County State’s Attorney last week. Yesterday, she made her first major announcement.  She announced that her office will not be charging Retail Theft cases as felonies unless the amount that is involved is more than $1,000 or if the defendant does not have anything less than 10 prior Felony Retail Theft convictions.   This announcement represents a dramatic shift in policy at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office.  Under current state law, you can be charged with a Class 4 Felony Retail Theft if the amount of the goods involved is more than $300 or if you have one prior felony retail theft conviction.  If you have one prior felony conviction you can be charged with a felony even if the amount is under $300.  If the amount is over $500, you can be charged with a class 3 felony.  Foxx’s announcement drastically raises the bar for what constitutes a Felony Retail Theft in Cook County.  Anita Alvarez, Foxx’s predecessor, had been trying to get the State Legislature to raise the bar for charging a felony up to $1,000 for many years now.  However, the state legislature has resisted.  As a result, the statewide threshold for charging someone with a felony retail theft, as opposed to a misdemeanor, remains at $300.  Compared to the other states around Illinois, the Illinois threshold is very low.  In Wisconsin the threshold is $500.  In Indiana, the threshold is $750.

Foxx’s announcement follows news from last week that Cook County is actively looking at ways of limiting the population at Cook County Jail. There is an understanding that the cost of housing inmates at the Cook County Jail is putting significant stress upon the limited budget resources of Cook County.  Last year, approximately 76 defendants who had been charged with Felony Retail Theft, spent more time in jail than what they were eventually sentenced to.  The total amount of the excess days served was 4,159.  The extra cost to the Cook County taxpayers was about $675,000.  Almost 80% of all Felony Retail Theft cases charged in Illinois between 2010 and 2012 were for less than $1,000.  As of today, about 101 people are housed at Cook County Jail on Felony Retail Theft charges.  The majority of the people that are locked up in Cook County Jail are there because they simply lack the financial resources to post bond.  As a result, Cook County taxpayers are footing the bill for their incarceration in the jail.

It remains to be seen what the impact of this announcement will be on retail theft cases. Looking at the reader comments in the local papers today they clearly indicate that this is a controversial decision.  What’s disturbing is that some of the comments are clearly racist in nature.  Some people will wonder whether the announcement will discourage storekeepers from calling the police if they know that the person they caught stealing from their store will not be charged with a felony. Others are going to argue that this announcement will just encourage people to steal because they know that they will not be facing felonies in Cook County. While prosecutors have always had the discretion to decide when and what to charge someone with, some people will argue that this is more than just an exercise of discretion.  It can be argued that the prosecutor is doing an end run around the will of the State Legislature.  The same prosecutor’s office that has been unsuccessful in lobbying the legislature to change the law, changes it on its own by exercising its discretion without legislative approval.  I would not be surprised to see someone charged with a Felony Retail Theft outside of Cook County argue an Equal Protection violation because the law is not being applied uniformly throughout the State of Illinois.

Jail building in Chicago, IL.

When somebody is arrested and charged with a felony, they have a right to a bond hearing.  At the bond hearing, the judge determines how much money needs to be posted in order for someone charged with a felony to be released from jail.  The statute that lays out the various factors that must be taken into consideration when setting the amount of the bond provides that the court should take into consideration the background, character, and criminal record of the defendant.  The court should also take into consideration the nature of the offense that a defendant is charged with and their criminal record and criminal background.  The purpose of the bond is to ensure that the defendant appears in court and that the public be protected from any potential harm that the defendant could cause.  The bond amount set by the court can have enormous consequences for an individual charged with a crime.  The cash bail system is coming under increased scrutiny with charges that it is discriminatory because it is unfair to indigent defendants who do not have any money.  The same statute that lays out the various factors that the court should take into consideration also provides that Bond shall not be excessive and that the court should take the financial resources of a defendant into consideration when setting a bond.  In my 24 years of practicing law in Cook County, I must have been at hundreds of bond hearings in Cook County.  Very rarely have I heard judges ask about the financial resources of a defendant.  The problem with that is that low-level drug offenders get arrested every single day in Cook County.  When they go to Bond Court the prosecutor tells the judge about the facts of the case and about the criminal history of the defendant.  If the judge sets a low bond that requires only a few hundred dollars be posted, the judge may well have set million dollar bond.  Many of these criminal defendants have no money whatsoever so they end up languishing in jail for many months until their case is resolved just because they don’t have a hundred dollars to post for Bond.  Not only is that wrong, but it makes no economic sense.  Last year, a record 1024 inmates spent more time in custody than the length of their entire jail sentence. According to Cook County, it costs the taxpayers about $60,000 a year to house an inmate in Cook County Jail for one year.  That cost is much more if the inmate has mental health or other health problems.

Cook County has been grappling with this problem for a long time.  The economic strain on the Cook County budget has caused officials to look at different ways to lower jail population.  The focus is on how to keep nonviolent low-level offenders out of jail.  County officials want to figure out how to avoid putting people in jail who pose no risk to the public so that tax dollars and costly jail space are not needlessly used.  Cook County has instituted a program whereby Pre-Trial Services prepares a report about a particular defendant that generates a score which informs the court about the likelihood that they will fail to go to court. However, the system has been criticized as not being thorough enough and for not doing enough to reduce the jail population in Cook County.  A class-action lawsuit has recently been filed in Cook County which alleges that the cash bail system in Cook County is racially discriminatory.  The Cook County Board has scheduled meetings to look at new and different ways to address the deficiencies in the cash bail system. There are simply too many low-level drug offenders who are spending time in jail simply because they lack the financial resources to get out of jail. This problem is straining the financial resources of Cook County.

James Dimeas is an award winning criminal defense attorney and author with more than 24 years of experience aggressively representing his clients in criminal cases.  If you have a criminal case in Illinois, contact me in Chicago (312-229-5500), DuPage and Kane (630-504-2096) or Lake (847-696-6458) for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal options.

Bond HearingToday I won a Source of Funds hearing at the Maywood Courthouse.  At my client’s initial bond hearing, the judge required that my client prove the source of funds prior to being allowed to post the required amount of the cash bond.  Immediately after the bond hearing I was contacted by my client’s family and hired to do whatever I could to get my client out of jail.  I immediately got to work and today, my client is a free man. Here’s how this case started and how I was able to get him released.

My client was pulled over in his vehicle by the Chicago Police.  After he was pulled over the police officer determined that his license had been suspended and he was placed under arrest.  His vehicle was subsequently searched and the police recovered approximately 2 pounds of marijuana and about 120 grams of mushrooms from inside his vehicle.  The arrest occurred late on Friday so he was taken to Central Bond Court at 26th and California on Sunday.  At the bond hearing the Judge set the bond at $10,000 cash.  The state filed a Petition requiring proof of Source of Funds, and the court granted their request.  Source of Funds is a procedure by which the Court will require proof that the money that will be posted for a bond is money that was lawfully obtained.  The law does not want drug money to be used to bond someone out of jail.  Prosecutors frequently request such proof in drug cases in which they believe that the defendant is a drug dealer.  Based on the amount of drugs found in our client’s vehicle, the Court felt that there was enough evidence to believe that my client was in the business of selling drugs.  When the prosecutor files such a request and the Court grants their request, then the burden shifts to the Defendant to file a Petition requesting that the Court conduct a hearing to allow the bond to be posted.  This is known as a Source of Bail Hearing.  At this hearing, the defense has the burden of proving that the money that will be posted for the bond is not drug money.

After the bond hearing I met with the friends and family of our client in my office and obtained bank records, pay stubs, tax returns, business documents, and prepared affidavits to prove that the money that would be used to post the required bond was not drug money.  I filed the petition at the first court date in Maywood, which was just a few days after the bond hearing.  Less than a week later the Court held a hearing which lasted over 2 days.  At the hearing I presented live testimony and presented evidence to the court to prove that the bond money was legally and lawfully obtained.  The Court was convinced that the bond money was not drug money and allowed the family to post the bond.

Legal%2BDefendersWhat is Source of Funds or Source of Bail Mean?

When you are charged with a felony, you will have a Bond Hearing.  At the Bond Hearing the judge will determine the amount of money that needs to be posted in order for you to be released from jail while your case is pending.  But in addition to setting the amount of money that needs to be posted, the judge can also set additional conditions that will apply to your bond.  Normally, a “D” Bond will be set which will require that only 10% of the bond amount be posted in cash.  The Judge can set other conditions, such as home confinement, surrender your passport, that you check in periodically with a probation officer or that you not have any contact with a witness.  When it comes to cases involving large amounts of illegal drugs, the state will often request that you prove Source of Funds or Source of Bail.  This will happen when the state, or prosecutor, believes that you are involved in criminal activity and that the only way the bond money can be posted is if money came from illegal criminal activity.  While the rationale may be true, most of the time this is not the case.  But when the state requests that a Source of Funds or Source of Bail hearing be conducted, this means that before the bond is posted, the Court must hold a hearing and allow the bond to be posted.  Without permission from the court, the bond cannot be posted.

What Happens When a Source of Funds or Source of Bail is Required?

Ioakimidis_100x100My client’s felony drug case was dismissed after a finding of no probable cause at the preliminary hearing at the Cook County Court Brach 50 (Grand & Central). My client is an armed security guard and a criminal conviction would have had serious consequences on his life, his FOID card and his Conceal and Carry License. He was pulled over for a traffic violation but was driving on a suspended driver’s license. He was arrested and the police found two zip lock baggies of marijuana and one pill of Ecstacy on him. 

The Cook County States Attorney dismissed the marijuana charges per the recent change in policy of not prosecuting  marijuana possession cases for under 30 grams in most cases. However, the police officer was present and the State proceeded to preliminary hearing on the Ecstasy pill (.03 grams). Wisely, the Judge did not see fit that the felony drug case proceed any further. In other words, the Cook County State”s Attorneys Office is continuing to prosecute low-level drug possession cases. 

Not prosecuting marijuana possession cases but prosecuting other drug possession cases is a policy that can be surely replaced by a better one. Wouldn’t be better to treat people who are arrested for drug possession in a non-criminal matter? For possession of marijuana, the Cook County State’s Attorney has answered that question in the affirmative. I believe justice will be better served if the States Attorney’s policy of not prosecuting marijuana cases be extended to all low-level drug possession cases. I’m sure there is a better way to treat people with addiction issues than to spend valuable and scarce resources trying to brand them as criminals.