Articles Posted in Drug Crimes

Veterans CourtThe recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have seen a dramatic rise in the number of mental health and substance abuse issues involving military veterans returning from serving in those wars.  Some of these soldiers are returning home with mental health issues and are using drugs to deal with the mental health issues which such wars have caused.  Those issues have spilled into the criminal justice system when these military veterans are getting arrested for crimes caused by substance abuse and mental health issues arising out of their military service.  In an effort to address the specific needs of returning veterans, the Illinois Legislature passed legislation in 2009 establishing Veterans Courts in Illinois.  The 2009 legislation did not require that counties establish such courts.  Nevertheless, Cook County and Lake County did establish such courts. Veterans Courts are specific courts which are designed to steer military veterans out of the criminal punishment aspect of the court system and towards the treatment aspect of the court system.  Specific courts have been established at 26th and California, Skokie, Rolling Meadows, Maywood, Bridgeview and Markham. The Veterans Courts in Cook County have been very successful and have been used as a model by court systems throughout the United States to help them establish their own Veterans Courts.  The Illinois Legislature recently passed legislation requiring that each county in Illinois establish such a court by January 1, 2018.  In anticipation of this new law taking effect, counties throughout Illinois are beginning to make plans to establish these courts.  Kane County officials are aware of the new law and are beginning to make plans to start the process of establishing these courts.

In order for a veteran to be eligible for Veterans Court in Cook County, enrollment has to be agreed to by the Court, Prosecutor and the Defendant.  The crime that the veteran is charged with cannot be a crime of violence. The veteran will not be eligible unless they have demonstrated a willingness to undergo treatment in the program.  They will also be ineligible if they have been convicted of a crime of violence within the past 10 years or if they have been discharged from a similar program within the past 3 years.

Lake County’s Veterans Court is similar with minor changes to the eligibility requirements.  To be eligible for Veterans Court in Lake County the veteran must have been honorably discharged from the military, must have a service related disability or currently be in the military, must be charged with a felony or misdemeanor in which probation or supervision is available, and must be willing to participate in the program before and after they enter the program.  They prefer that the veteran be eligible for VA benefits but is not a requirement.  For any crime involving a crime against an individual, the victim must agree to allowing the veteran to enter such a program.

MarijuanaOn July 27 we reported that the DEA was considering reclassifying marijuana from a Class 1 Drug to something less.  Advocates for the legalization of marijuana were looking at this possibility as an important step to the possible legalization of marijuana.  On Wednesday the DEA made it’s decision public, and the decision did not make marijuana legalization advocates happy.  The DEA decided to keep marijuana in Class 1, which is the most serious classification of illegal drugs.  But what is especially troubling was the reason given by the DEA for denying the application to remove marijuana from the Class 1 category.  The DEA found that there is no accepted medical benefit for the use of marijuana and that it is highly vulnerable to abuse.  The DEA found that marijuana is not a safe and effective medicine.  This decision flies in the face of 42 states, and the District of Columbia, which allow for some form of medical marijuana use.

Today, sources are reporting that as early as today, the Obama Administration will issue new regulations which will make it easier for researchers to obtain the marijuana needed to conduct medical research. Currently, marijuana grown at the University of Mississippi has been the only source of medical marijuana available to medical researchers.  Currently, in order to obtain permission from the federal government to grow marijuana for medical research purposes, the process is so restrictive that it could take years to obtain it and is virtually impossible to get.  The new regulations will make it much easier to obtain permission to grow a supply of research grade marijuana.  The details are unclear but people who have seen the regulations believe that these changes could signal a major step towards the eventual legalization of marijuana.

Recently, Illinois has joined a growing group of states that are moving towards a more accepting treatment of marijuana.  Illinois allows for the use of Medical Marijuana.  The Illinois Legislature has accepted that there are medical benefits to the use of marijuana and they have set up a highly regulated process by which people who suffer from certain medical conditions can legally buy, possess and use medical marijuana as long as they have a valid prescription and obtain permission from the State of Illinois.  While the Illinois medical marijuana program is one of the most strict in the country, it is the product of a long and difficult fight in Springfield that took many twists and turns.

MarijuanaOn Friday, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed legislation into law which makes possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil matter and not a criminal matter.  This new law makes Illinois the 17th state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.  This means that if you are caught with the possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less, you will be issued a ticket charging you with a civil offense which carries a fine of up to $200.  However, individual towns are allowed to add additional penalties to the tickets, such as drug treatment or classes.  The new law also makes two more changes to Illinois law.  First, anyone charged under this new law will have the case expunged from their record automatically 6 months after the offense occurs. Expungements for these citations will happen automatically twice a year, January 1 and July 1.  This was added to the statute to make sure that such a case would not limit the ability of people, especially young people, to be able to obtain a job. The second change has to do with DUI’s. Under the old law, Illinois had a “no tolerance” policy when it came to driving a motor vehicle with the presence of any trace of marijuana in their blood system.Under the old law, if you had ingested marijuana a few weeks ago and were driving a motor vehicle, you could be charged with a DUI even if there were no signs of impairment.  Under the new law you cannot be charged with a DUI unless you have 5 nano-grams of THC (the active ingredient of marijuana) in your blood, or 10 nano-grams or more in your saliva.

This new law is pretty similar to a measure enacted in Chicago in 2012.  This measure allows police officers to issue tickets for possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana that carries fines of $250 to $500. The new law would not change what is happening in Chicago but would apply to any towns in Illinois that have no such measure so that there’s some uniformity in Illinois.

Similar legislation was passed last year.  But when it reached Rauner’s desk, he vetoed the legislation because he believed that it allowed for the possession of too much marijuana and the fines were too low. The legislature amended the legislation to satisfy Governor Rauner’s objections and he signed the bill on Friday. This measure goes into immediate effect in Illinois.

marijuana-Schedule 1The DEA has announced that they are considering reclassifying Marijuana from a Schedule 1 Drug to something less.  The implications could have enormous consequences which could drastically change the way we deal with marijuana in the criminal justice system.  Under current federal law, Marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 Drug.  This is the highest classification for the ranking of drugs.  This classification includes Heroin and Cocaine.  The current classification of marijuana makes it illegal under federal law to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes since Class 1 drugs have no current accepted medical use.  24 states currently permit medical marijuana in violation of federal law.  If the federal government reclassified marijuana to something less than a Schedule 1 drug, this would allow researchers to work with the plant to explore possible medical uses.  Since Marijuana is classified a Schedule 1 drug, researches can only legally obtain the plant through a single federal government garden that has strict restrictions on the ability to obtain the plant for research purposes.  Marijuana was added to schedule 1 in 1970. The DEA regularly considers reclassifying drugs.  They have previously considered reclassifying marijuana in the past and have always refused.  In a letter to Congress, the DEA informed them that they will be conducting a review of marijuana but did not include a date by which they will decide.  It is expected that a decision will be coming down sometime this summer.  There is a growing belief among medical professionals that marijuana may have medical benefits that could provide a viable alternative to prescription drugs.  The belief is not universal but there is a growing consensus that the medical benefits do deserve to be explored and that research needs to be conducted.  Unlike prescription medication, marijuana comes in different strains and potency which could affect different conditions in unique ways.  Classifying marijuana a Schedule 1 drug has made it very difficult for medical research to conduct the necessary research to explore any possible benefits.

It seems like the political climate is moving towards easing the prohibition on marijuana.  In addition to the legalization of medical marijuana, a couple of months ago, the Republican led House of Representatives passed a measure which would allow VA doctors to legally recommend, and prescribe, medical marijuana to veterans, the same way doctors can in the 24 states that have allowed for medical marijuana.  The Senate has passed a similar measure, but since there’s slight differences in the legislation, the bills need to be reconciled. It is believed that President Obama would sign such legislation if it were sent to his desk.  The fact that Congress would pass such legislation is further proof of the momentum that has been building towards becoming more tolerant and accepting of marijuana.

While nobody thinks that marijuana is going to be legalized anytime soon, reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug to something less is clearly a necessary first step to the beginning of this process.  In preparation for the possible legalization of marijuana in the future, people are already looking at the possible financial benefits that could arise.  According to a recent report from NerdWallet, states could stand to gain $3.1 billion per year in tax revenue if marijuana were to be legalized.  The Federal Government is seen as the biggest obstacle to legalizing marijuana.  The Federal Government classifying marijuana a Schedule 1 drug means that businesses engaging in the marijuana business cannot take tax deductions like normal business can.  In addition, financial institutions are unwilling to do business with business that do business with marijuana out of fear of criminal prosecution.  For that reason, reclassifying marijuana to something other than a Schedule 1 drug may be the beginning of a movement that could eventually lead to legalizing marijuana.

Stingray Cell TowerOn Friday, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed a bill into law which requires law enforcement officials to obtain a warrant before deploying a stingray device to intercept a person’s cell phone communications to determine their location.

A stingray device is basically a cell phone simulator which intercepts the transmission from cell phones without anyone’s knowledge or consent.  In some cases the stingray can intercept actual phone calls and text messages.  The stingray tower will fool the cell phone into thinking it is communicating with the cell phone carrier’s cell phone tower when it is actually communicating with a tower that is being run and monitored by law enforcement agents.  The stingray tower doesn’t just target one device.  It will intercept the cell phone transmission of all the cell phones in a particular location.  Unknown to anyone, law enforcement officials are listening to the conversations and intercepting text messages and other data communications.  Law enforcement agencies have been using stingray towers for several years without any scrutiny.  A few years ago in a federal drug case in California, federal agents claimed that they had received a tip from a confidential informant about the drug dealing activity of a defendant charged with dealing drugs.  During the discovery phase, prosecutors mistakenly turned over documents to the defense which revealed the use of these stingray devices.  Before this case, nobody had ever heard of such devices.   The federal government sought to block the defense from obtaining any discovery about these devices claiming that national security would be compromised.  The Court eventually ordered the government to turn over the stingray discovery to the defense but ultimately admitted the evidence obtained by the stingray device.  In response to this case, the State of California passed legislation requiring that the police obtain a warrant before deploying a stingray. Several states, such as Washington, Virginia, Minnesota and Utah joined California and enacted a similar warrant requirement.  Last year, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department imposed rules which require that federal agents obtain a warrant before deploying a stingray.

Last month, for the first time, a federal judge, in a drug case, suppressed evidence that had been obtained by a stingray that had been used without a warrant.  U.S. Drug Enforcement agents had used a stingray to locate a cell phone that had been used in a drug investigation.  The agents used the stingray to track the cell phone to the Defendant’s apartment.  U.S. District Judge William Pauley ruled that “absent a search warrant, the government may not turn a citizen’s cell phone into a tracking device.”  The Judge suppressed all of the evidence obtained by the use of the stingray device.  This marks the first time that any court has suppressed any evidence obtained by the use of a stingray.

unnamedIn April of this year, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision in Rodriguez v. United States which places serious limitations on traffic stops conducted by the police. In Rodriguez the Supreme Court ruled that the police cannot extend the duration of a traffic stop, even for a “de-minimis” amount of time, without reasonable suspicion for reasons unrelated to vehicle and driver safety.  A police officer stopped Rodriguez for driving on the shoulder in Nebraska.  After the officer did everything related to the stop, including checking his license, insurance and issuing a warning, he asked Rodriguez if he would give him permission to walk his dog around his vehicle to check for the presence of drugs.  When Rodriguez refused, the officer told him to wait until a second squad car arrived with the dog.  After the second officer arrived, the officer walked the dog around Rodriguez’s vehicle and notified the officer that it had detected drugs.  The officer searched the vehicle and discovered methamphetamine.  Rodriguez was arrested and charged with various federal drug offenses.  Rodriguez filed a Motion to Suppress claiming that the officer unreasonable delayed the stop to investigate other crimes without reasonable suspicion.  The Federal Magistrate, who conducted the hearing on the motion, agreed that there was no suspicion to support detaining Rodriguez but that since the detention only took 7 to 8 minutes, it was “de minimis” and did not infringe on his personal liberty.  The Magistrate recommended denial of the motion and the Federal Judge agreed and denied Rodriguez’s motion.  Rodriguez entered a conditional guilty plea and was sentenced to 5 years in Federal Prison.  The Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court and Rodriguez appealed to the United States Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court held “absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.  The police authority for a traffic stop seizure ends as soon as soon as the tasks necessary for the traffic stop are completed, or should reasonably have been completed.  So once the officer checks the license, insurance, checks for warrants and issues the ticket, the police officer’s authority to detain someone ends.  The case was sent back to the District Court to address the issue of whether the officer had any reasonable suspicion to call for the dog because this issue was never explored by the trial court.

This case is important because this stuff happens all the time.  The police will pull over a vehicle and once the ticket is issued start asking questions and delay the driver to come up with more evidence. What started as a simple traffic stop quickly evolves into a gun case or a drug case.

In case you think that this doesn’t happen often, there is a similar allegation in a drug case currently pending in Kane County.  On August 13, 2005, a Utah woman was pulled over on I-90 near Hampshire by a Kane County Sheriff’s Deputy.  According to her attorney, after she was issued a warning, the Deputy started asking the woman questions that had nothing to do with the traffic stop. The Deputy repeatedly asked for consent to search her vehicle and was repeatedly denied permission. The Deputy called for a drug sniffing dog. The vehicle was eventually searched and heroin was found.  The driver claims that the dog never signaled the presence of drugs but her vehicle was searched anyway.  This case has focused attention on the Kane County Sheriff’s Office.  Judges have ruled against the Kane County Sheriff’s Office on 3 cases in the past year.  One case involved the strip search of a Minnesota man who was illegally strip searched, a traffic stop of a retired Oregon deputy that was improperly prolonged in 2014, and the stop of 3 Minnesota residents that was improperly prolonged. The Minnesota man who was improperly strip searched and the retired Oregon deputy have filed Federal lawsuits against Kane County and the Sheriff.   The case involving the 3 Minnesota residents has been appealed by prosecutors.

MarijuanaLast week the United States Supreme Court rejected the appeal of a 76 year old Alabama man who had been sentenced to life in prison for possession of less than 3 pounds of marijuana that he had grown for personal use.  Lee Carroll Brooker had been convicted of possessing less than three pounds of marijuana that he had grown for personal use. Brooker is a disabled veteran who claimed that he had grown the marijuana to treat chronic pain.  Police discovered the marijuana when they visited a home he shared with his son while they were searching for stolen property.  The police discovered 37 marijuana plants growing in the back yard but had no evidence that he was selling marijuana.  But because of an Alabama statute which allows him to be charged with trafficking if the weight of the marijuana is more than 2.2 pounds, he was convicted of trafficking.  The statute also provides for a mandatory life sentence for anyone convicted of this crime who has a prior criminal record.  Brooker was sentenced to life in prison.  The trial judge told Brooker that he would sentence him to a lesser sentence but that his hands were tied because of the mandatory sentencing provision of the statute.  The Alabama Supreme Court upheld the life sentence with a powerful dissenting opinion by the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.  The Alabama Attorney General argued that the life sentence was also based on Carroll’s background which includes convictions for Drug Smuggling and Armed Robbery.  Carroll appealed to the United States Supreme Court arguing that the life sentence for marijuana possession violated the Constitution’s prohibition against Cruel and Unusual Punishment.  Last week, the Supreme Court rejected his appeal.  By rejecting his appeal, the Supreme Court allowed the Alabama Supreme Court decision stand which allows for a life sentence to be imposed on a man convicted of Marijuana Possession.

This case is significant because it highlights the flaws inherent to mandatory sentencing statutes which take away the discretion from judges to do the right thing.  Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes are laws which require a minimum and maximum sentence for a conviction.  Such sentencing laws prohibit a judge from imposing a sentence other than what is required by the legislature.  The criticism of such statutes is that it prohibits a judge from taking a particular individual’s case into consideration when it comes to imposing a just and effective sentence.  Mandatory minimum sentences started being enacted in the 80’s when legislators wanted to take a more strict approach to crime and take away the ability of judges to be lenient when it came to punishing criminal defendants.  The prison populations throughout the country is credited with the rise of prison populations.  Mandatory minimum sentencing has become part of the current political debate with people from both political parties arguing that such sentences are unjust and need to be reformed in order to fix a broken criminal justice system.  The fact that we are seeing people from both sides of the political sides agreeing that mandatory minimum sentencing needs to be addressed is an encouraging sign.  It is very rare to see people agreeing to much in Washington lately.

James Dimeas is an award winning criminal defense attorney and author with more than 23 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.

DUIThe Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that the police can pull over a vehicle just for trying to avoid a police roadblock. Jacob Timmsen was driving down US Highway 31 when he saw bright orange warning signs that he was about to enter a police checkpoint. Timmsen activated his turn single and made a U-turn at a railroad crossing about 50 feet away from the roadblock. There was nothing improper about the maneuver. He properly used his turn signal and made an otherwise legal and proper driving maneuver. In spite of the fact that he was driving legally, a County Deputy working the police roadblock checkpoint pulled over Timmsen merely because he suspected that he was trying to avoid the police roadblock. After Timmsen was detained and interrogated by the deputy, it was determined that he was driving on a suspended license and placed under arrest. After he was arrested, the deputy searched Timmsen’s vehicle and found less than a gram of marijuana inside his vehicle. Timmsen was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 90 days in county jail. After the conviction, Timmsen appealed the case and the Court of Appeals ruled in his favor finding that the maneuver made by Timmsen did not provide reasonable articulable suspicion that Timmsen had committed any crime and that exercising one’s constitutional rights should not be used as evidence against them in a criminal prosecution. The State appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court and the Supreme Court overturned the ruling of the Appellate Court and ruled that the deputy had reasonable suspicion to make the stop and upheld the conviction of Timmsen. In ruling the way it did, the court looked at the totality of the circumstances, mainly that the maneuver occurred at 1:15 a.m. on a Saturday morning approximately 50 feet from a checkpoint roadblock. The court found that this indicated a high degree of probability that the driver was operating his vehicle under the influence of alcohol and by attempting to avoid detection by the police, Timpson had created reasonable suspicion and probable cause to pull him over.  Timmsen had argued that the police had no right to pull him over because he was merely minding his own business. But the Supreme Court did not agree with him. The court found that even though he made a legal maneuver, it raised the suspicion that he was attempting to avoid contact with the police. The court found that there was nothing about the facts of the case to suggest that he was merely going about his own business. The court found that his U-turn was just as suspicious and evasive as running away from a police officer in a high-crime area. As a matter of fact, the majority found that Timmsen was doing the opposite of going about his own business.

The lone dissent was by Judge Anne M. Burke. Judge Burke argue that the 4th Amendment gives individuals the right to ignore a police officer if that police officer has no reason to believe that they had done anything wrong. She believes that the roadblock in the early morning hours was irrelevant to the case. Judge Burke held that you cannot be convicted of doing something that you have a right to do. Since you have a right to avoid the police and not cooperate with them, how can that be a sufficient basis for pulling over a motorist?

This case is troubling precisely for the reasons stated by Judge Burke in her dissent. Timmsen was arrested because he was exercising his constitutional rights. It’s important to keep in mind that when it comes to the constitution, the ends should not justify the means. Sure, Timmsen was driving a vehicle without a license and had marijuana in his vehicle. But the police did not discover this until after he was pulled over. But the reason he was pulled over was because he tried to avoid contact with the police. The 4th Amendment grants citizens the right to not talk to the police when they don’t want to. So what this case does is impose criminal penalties upon a citizen who is exercising a constitutional right. This is troubling and should not be allowed. Why have a constitutional right if citizens know that exercising their constitutional right could put them in legal jeopardy? I suppose that this defeats the purpose of giving people that constitutional right. We should cherish the rights afforded to us by our constitution. By imposing criminal penalties upon people who exercise those constitutional rights, we are watering down and dismissing the importance of those constitutional rights. People should not be afraid to exercise their constitutional rights.

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?