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cannabisA recent Illinois appeal involved a Domestic Battery. The defendant was acquitted of Aggravated Domestic Battery and unlawfully interfering with a report of Domestic Violence, but he was convicted of Domestic Battery under 720 ILCS 5/12-3.2(a)(1). The trial court denied his post-trial motion, and he was sentenced to 30 months in prison. He appealed on the grounds that the court had made a mistake in permitting the prosecution to impeach him with his felony Cannabis conviction.

The case arose from allegations that the defendant knowingly caused harm to a woman by choking her after previously being convicted of a Domestic Battery. In addition to applying pressure to her throat, it was alleged that he stopped her normal breathing or blood circulation, and he knowingly stopped her from calling the police by taking her phone.

Before trial, the defendant tried to stop the State from impeaching him by showing he had a prior Domestic Battery conviction and a felony Marijuana conviction. At the hearing, the prosecution argued that the Marijuana conviction could be admitted because the charge was not similar to the defendant’s current charges, and it had impeachment value because it was a crime against society.

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parking-space-1441053-1-300x225In a recent Illinois appellate case, the defendant was convicted of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance under 720 ILCS 570/401(a)(1)(D). He appealed on the grounds that the prosecution hadn’t proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he knowingly participated in the drug transaction.

The detective testified that he’d investigated narcotics and money laundering cases in the past. Most of his cases involved surveillance. Often traffickers conduct heat runs to determine if police are watching. A heat run is an effort to take an out-of-the-way route to go to the transaction destination, such as making multiple turns or U-turns and going down back alleys.

On the day in question, the detective found that a prior investigation target was stopped with more than $100,000 on him. The detective went to the address where the car was registered. There they saw a car registered to the defendant at a Texas address. They saw a woman and boy leave the house and drive away to breakfast at a restaurant. When they came back to the address the defendant’s car was gone. It returned in the afternoon, with the defendant driving.

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knifeIt is crucial to retain an experienced attorney to defend you if you’re charged with domestic battery or aggravated domestic battery in Illinois. In a recent Illinois appellate case, the defendant was convicted of aggravated domestic battery after a bench trial. The couple had met in 2011 and started an intimate relationship. The woman gave birth to their child. She had no permanent place of residence, so she stayed with the defendant at his house. They frequently argued, which caused her to leave for a certain period before coming back.

In 2012, during a fight, the defendant threatened to kill her and put her in a chokehold. Their son was in a car seat on the floor. The mother flipped the defendant onto the floor, but he kept choking her for about two minutes until she had to stop. She left and called the cops, but she didn’t want medical treatment when an officer offered to call an ambulance. She filed an order of protection against the defendant, but she had no way to go back to court to make sure the order continued to be in effect. After that, she lost custody of the child.

The couple continued to argue. On the last occasion, the defendant stabbed the victim. She didn’t realize she’d been stabbed until she saw the blood, and then she panicked. He told her to run, and she did. She passed out on the street, and when she woke, the police were there and asked who’d stabbed her. She had to have an emergency surgery to fix the wound.

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Order-of-Protection-200x300Many times when someone is arrested and charged with a Domestic Battery the Court will issue an Order of Protection that seeks to protect the person claiming to be abused (Petitioner) from being harmed or harassed by the person who is being charged with the Domestic Battery. When I have a client (Respondent) that has an Order of Protection entered against them they often get confused and do not fully understand what this means and what they can and cannot do. I want to discuss what an Order of Protection is and what you need to do to protect yourself from Violating the order and getting into deeper trouble.

Basically an Order of Protection is a Court Order which prohibits someone from doing something. There’s two ways for an Order of Protection to come into existence. The most common way is when someone is arrested and charged with a Domestic Battery. At the first court date, which is usually the Bond Hearing, the court will enter an Order of Protection . This initial Order of Protection is only for a limited time until the Court conducts a hearing to determine whether to extend the Order of Protection or enter an Order of Protection that will last for as long as the Domestic Battery criminal case continues in court. This is called a Plenary Order of Protection.  Another way for an Order of Protection to be issued is when someone goes to court and files a Petition asking the court to issue a Temporary Order of Protection.  In cases like that, the Order of Protection is often issued without the other person being present in court and is only for a short period of time so that the other person can be notified to appear in court so that a hearing may be conducted to determine whether the Order of Protection should be extended or issued for up to two years.

Not every Order of Protection is the same. From my experience there’s basically two types of Orders of Protection that are usually entered. The most common Order of Protection is a “full no contact” Order of Protection. That type of Order of Protection provides that the Respondent is not allowed to have any contact whatsoever with the Petitioner.  The other type of Order of Protection that is commonly entered prohibits any harmful or offensive contact.  The full no contact Order of Protection means what the title says.  If you have that type of Order of Protection entered against you this means that you cannot have any contact whatsoever with the other person.  Those types of Orders usually provide that you cannot be within a certain number of feet of the other person, that you cannot go to their residence, that you cannot go to their place of employment and other places where they may be.  It also means that you cannot contact them by electronic means whatsoever. This includes email, social media, telephone calls, and text messages.  The reason that you are trying to contact that person is irrelevant.  The mere fact that you tried to contact them by sending an email or a text message, or posting something on their Facebook page is enough for you to be considered in Violation of the Order of Protection.

Domestic-BatteryOne of the most common questions I get asked by people who are charged with a Domestic Battery is whether they can be guilty of a Domestic Battery if they did not hit anyone.  The short answer to that question is yes.  But let’s talk a little about what a Domestic Battery is and why it is very important that you hire a good Illinois Domestic Battery lawyer who knows what they are doing.

First of all, most Domestic Batteries in Illinois are a misdemeanor.  The maximum punishment for a misdemeanor Domestic Battery is one year in jail and a fine up to $2,500.  But unlike most misdemeanors, if you are found guilty of a Domestic Battery in Illinois, you cannot receive Court Supervision.  Court Supervision is a type of sentence, that if successfully completed, does not result in a conviction on your criminal record.  The lowest possible sentence that can be imposed on a Domestic Battery in Illinois is Conditional Discharge.  A Conditional Discharge for a Domestic Battery cannot be expunged from your criminal record.  This means that if you are found guilty of a Domestic Battery you will never be able to remove the conviction from your criminal record.  And that’s why even though a Domestic Battery is usually a misdemeanor it is more serious than most other misdemeanors.  Since it can never be removed from your record, the consequences of a conviction can last a lifetime.

Next let’s talk about what Illinois law considers a Domestic Battery to be.  In order for a Battery to be considered a Domestic Battery as opposed to a regular Battery, the victim has to be either a family or household member. What does that mean?  This means that the victim has to either be a spouse or former spouse, a child or stepchild, or someone related to you by blood or by a prior marriage.  A family or household member can be someone who lives with you, someone that you are alleged to have had a child with or are related to each other through a child.  A household or family member can also be someone that you are currently having, or have previously had, a dating relationship with.  So as you can see, a family or household member is rather broadly defined under Illinois Law.

DUIThe question posted in the title to this article is one that I am frequently asked by my clients. There’s no easy answer to this question. When asked this question, the best I can do is explain the consequences of taking a breathalyzer test and the consequences of refusing to take a breathalyzer test.

First, let’s talk about what a breathalyzer test is. Basically, a breathalyzer test refers to the test that is used by the police to measure the amount of alcohol in the breath of the person that is taking the test.  This test is almost always administered at the police station.  If the test is administered properly and the machine is functioning properly, the results from that test can be used in court to prove that you were driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.  Before you are asked to take a breathalyzer test the police officer has to have reasonable suspicion to believe that you were driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. Typically, what an officer will do first is to ask you to perform field sobriety tests to determine if you are under the influence of alcohol.  The field sobriety test is really three standardized tests performed on the side of the road that can tell a police officer if you are under the influence of alcohol. The three tests are the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk-and-turn and the one-leg stand.  Police officers receive specialized training on how to perform these tests and on how to properly score the results. If a police officer determines that you failed these tests, the officer may ask you to take a preliminary breath test (PBT). The PBT is a handheld device that the officer carries in their police vehicle that is not accurate enough to be allowed by the courts to be used to prove that you were driving under the influence of alcohol. But it can be used as evidence to help form a basis for reasonable suspicion for the officer to place you under arrest and to take you down to the police station so that you can be asked to take a breathalyzer test.  In other words, the PBT, along with the police officer’s observations and the results of the field sobriety test can be used to by the prosecutor to provide the court with a basis for the reasonable suspicion needed to place you under arrest and to take you down to the police station to request that you take a Breathalyzer test.  Unlike a breathalyzer test Illinois Law does not impose any penalties on a refusal to submit to a PBT.

If you are taken down to the police station the police officer will ask you to take a breathalyzer test. At that point you have a decision to make. You can either agree to take it or refuse to take the test. If you agree to take the test you will be informed by the police officer that if the results of the breathalyzer test indicate that your blood alcohol level is .08 or above your license will be suspended for 6 months if you are a first-time DUI offender. If you are not a first-time offender you will be advised that your driving privileges will be suspended for at least 3 years. You were involved in an accident that caused personal injury to another person, your license will be suspended for 12 months.

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.

Inspector. Please note that the graphics are my artwork.Thanks. The Law with respect to family related, domestic violence issues. Book of law with a gavel and a Restraining Order.

In 2010 the Kane County State’s Attorney’s office, in collaboration with Domestic Violence victims rights groups established the first Domestic Violence Diversion Program in Illinois. The main goal of this Diversion Program is to take first-time domestic violence offenders out of the criminal justice system and place them into a program that is designed to prevent them from becoming repeat offenders. Instead of putting them through the criminal justice system and punishing them, this program seeks to treat the causes behind the behavior. Treatment rather than punishment. If an offender successfully completes this program, the case will not be placed on their permanent criminal record. This is very important. While the vast majority of domestic battery cases are misdemeanors that carry a maximum punishment of one year in jail, a guilty plea, or a finding of guilt for a domestic battery, can never be removed from your permanent criminal record.  You cannot receive Court supervision for a Domestic Battery. The only possible sentence for a Domestic Battery is conditional discharge or a misdemeanor conviction. You are not allowed to expunge a Domestic Battery. The consequences of not being able to remove a Domestic Battery from your criminal record should be pretty obvious. If you ever apply for a job, a criminal background search will reveal this case on your record. If you ever apply for an apartment and your landlord performs a background search, they will find this criminal case in your background. If you apply for a loan, a lender may find this case in your background.

Offenders are not automatically eligible for the Domestic Violence Diversion Program. You are ineligible for this program if you have ever had any prior conviction or any type of probation for a Domestic Violence-related offense. You will not be eligible if you are an active gang member or–if your case is eligible to be upgraded to a felony. They will check with the victim and the arresting police officer and if they object to you being admitted into this program, you will not be eligible. You will not be eligible if you are unwilling to admit your guilt. If you threatened or intended to cause physical harm to the victim, you will not be eligible for this program. If the victim required medical treatment, you will not be eligible. Finally, you will not be eligible for this program if it was determined that you used or possessed a deadly weapon during the course of this Domestic Battery or if you have previously participated in this, or a similar, program. This program is strictly for first time offenders.

Once the State Attorney’s Office determined that you are eligible to be placed into this program, you will be instructed to contact the State’s Attorney’s Office so that you can arrange to be interviewed. You will be charged a $25 application fee. If they accept you into this program, you will appear at the next court date and you will plead guilty. Whether or not you are accepted into this program is left to the sole discretion of the State’s Attorney’s Office and you cannot appeal their denial of your acceptance into this program.

410 ProbationIllinois law has made a special type of Probation available for first-time felony drug offenders to avoid a felony conviction on their record. This type of Probation is commonly known as Section 410 or Section 1410 Probation. In order to be eligible for this type of Probation, you cannot have previously been convicted or placed on Probation or Court Supervision for any offense related to Cannabis or Illegal Drugs. This includes Prescription Drugs.  If you are able to get this type of Probation, here’s how it works:

At the time of sentencing, you plead guilty to the charges. The court accepts your plea but does not enter judgment. The court will place you on a period of Probation that will last 24 months. The only time you should have to go back to court before your Probation ends is if a Petition to Violate your Probation is filed. While you are on Probation the court will require that you do not violate any criminal laws in any state. You will not be allowed to possess a firearm or any other dangerous weapon. The court will order that you submit to random and unscheduled drug testing.  You will be required to pay the cost of the drug testing but you should not have to take more than 3 drug tests during the period of your Probation. You will also be required to perform 30 hours of community service. In addition, the court may require additional conditions such as payment of fines and court costs, require that you continue with your education, undergo medical or psychiatric treatment, and may require that you appear in court periodically.  The statute gives the court great latitude on imposing additional conditions on your 410 Probation.  Since every case is different, any additional requirements will depend on the particular case.

There are some drawbacks to this type of Probation. The main problem being that since you have pled guilty to the charges, if the court determines that you violated your 410 Probation for any reason, you cannot go back to that court and fight the case because you have already pled guilty. So if you violate this Probation, the only question before the court will be what your sentence should be. You will not be able to contest your guilt or innocence. If you violate your Probation, typically the court will convert the 410 Probation to a felony conviction which could involve felony Probation or a jail sentence.

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 post bond and 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.