Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Justice Department Opens Door to Clemency Petitions for Drug Offenders

Today, the Justice Department announced rule changes that would make it easier for certain Federal inmates who are serving time in Federal prison for drug convictions to be eligible to apply for a pardon from the President of the United States.  The rule changes broaden the criteria for prisoners who are serving time and are expected to lead to the filing of thousands of clemency petitions.  In order to be eligible to file for clemency the prisoner must be a low level, non-violent offender without a significant criminal history, must be serving a federal sentence that would most likely be more serious than what he would have received today, must have served at least 10 years of their sentence and must have a good prison record without any history of violence before, or after their drug conviction.  The changes are in response to the disparity of sentences between defendants convicted of powder cocaine as opposed to crack cocaine.  There's about 200,000 inmates in the federal prison system.  One study estimates that roughly 2,000 of those inmates would be eligible to apply for a pardon under the new rules announced today.  However, it is expected that many of those inmates would be found to be ineligible upon closer examination of their circumstances and background.  The Justice Department will also be increasing the number of attorney's working in the unit that examines clemency petitions.

Back in 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act to deal with the disparities between sentencing for powder cocaine and crack cocaine convictions.  Before this Act was signed the disparity was 100 to 1.  After the Act was signed the disparity has been reduced to 8 to 1.

For more information about the Chicago criminal defense attorneys at Legal Defenders, P.C., visit us at www.legaldefenderspc.com or call us anytime at 1-800-228-7295.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Will County Branch Court Moving

The Lincoln-Way Branch Court in Will County, will be moving from it's current location at 23320 LaGrange Road, which is a private banquet hall, to 11008 W. U.S. 30 in Frankfort.  The new location used to be the old Frankfort Township Hall.  The Lincoln-Way Branch Court handles mostly traffic matters.  The change in locations will begin on June 1 and is being made due to a lack of parking at the old location.  When Frankfort Township build a new facility next to the old facility, they increased the parking at the location.  Court at Lincoln-Way will be held the first and second Monday and the second Tuesday and second Thursday of each month.

For more information about the Chicago criminal defense attorneys at Legal Defenders, P.C., visit us at www.legaldefenderspc.com or call us anytime at 1-800-228-7295. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Oregon Judge Rules That Flashing Your Headlights to Warn of Speed Trap is Protected Speech

While driving a truck hauling logs on a Southern Oregon highway, Chris Hill noticed a Sheriff's Deputy behind his truck.  When he saw a UPS truck approaching in the opposite direction he flashed his headlights to warn the driver of the Sheriff's Deputy.  The Sheriff's Deputy pulled over Hill and gave him a $260 ticket for improperly using his headlights.  Hill was outraged that he received the ticket and put up a fight in court. Last week an Oregon judge ruled that Oregon's law regarding the improper use of headlights was valid when it comes to high beams but invalid in the way it was applied in Hill's case because what he did was speech protected by the Oregon Constitution.  Hill represented himself in court. After he received the ticket he did his own research and found other cases in other parts of the country that ruled that police cannot pull over and ticket drivers just for flashing their headlights.  Hill made the arguments to the trial court which agreed with him. The court ruled that the police can enforce laws to protect the public but cannot issue tickets just because people are exercising their right to express themselves.  Not only did Hill represent himself, but the court hearing was conducted over the telephone.

This case illustrates that we should not be afraid to stand up for our rights in the face of a clear violation of our rights.

For more information about the Chicago criminal defense attorneys at Legal Defenders, P.C., visit us at www.legaldefenderspc.com or call us anytime at 1-800-228-7295.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Supreme Court Arguments in April on Landmark 4th Amendment Cases

April is shaping up to be a very important month for privacy advocates concerned with protecting the 4th Amendment's right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  In January the Supreme Court announced that it will hear oral arguments on United States v. Wurie and Riley v. California.  The most important case seems to be Riley because it involves a modern smartphone that can store much more data locally and on the cloud than the phone involved in Wurie, which was a regular cell phone.  The issue in both cases is whether an arrest of a defendant gives the police the right to search through the data on their phones.  In the Riley case the police looked through the defendant's phone after he was arrested and discovered a photo of Riley standing next to a vehicle involved in a shooting.  Many court watchers believe that Riley is shaping up to become the most important 4th Amendment case before the United States Supreme Court in a very long time.  In 2012, in U.S. v. Jones, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the police need a warrant in order to place a GPS tracking device on a vehicle.  When police place someone under arrest they are allowed to conduct a search incident to a lawful arrest.  Modern advancements in technology have created a difficult issue.  If someone has their smartphone on them when they are arrested do the police have the right to search through the contents of their cell phone after they are arrested?  Imagine being arrested for something minor, such as driving with a suspended license, and when you are taken to the police station to be processed the police start looking through the text messages and emails on your iPhone or Android phone to see if there's anything incriminating in your text messages and emails?  Lower state and federal courts have been all over the place on this issue.  The issue will be resolved by the United States Supreme Court.

The oral arguments are scheduled to be heard in the Court's April session which will begin on April 21.

For more information about the Chicago criminal defense attorneys at Legal Defenders, P.C., visit us at www.legaldefenderspc.com or call us anytime at 1-800-228-7295.

Illinois Supreme Court Ruling Means New Sentencing Hearings For 100 Illinois Prison Inmates

Yesterday the Illinois Supreme Court issued a ruling that means that about 100 Illinois prison inmates who were under the age of 18 when they committed a murder will receive new sentencing hearings.  Most of the inmates affected were convicted of murder in Cook County and the majority of the inmates were convicted of more than one murder.  Half of the inmates were 17 at the time of the murder while the youngest was 14.  The United States Supreme Court has already ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder violated the 8th Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.  The Illinois Supreme Court has just ruled that any juvenile previously convicted of murder that was committed when they were juveniles and were sentenced to a mandatory life sentence should receive new sentencing hearings.  The case involved Addolfo Davis who was convicted of a double murder that he committed when he was only 14 years old.  The Illinois Supreme Court called upon a sentencing judge to apply a balancing test which involves looking at the role the juvenile offender played in the murder and the circumstances of their upbringing and the chances for rehabilitation.  

There are no details yet about when and how those new sentencing hearings will be conducted.

For more information about the Chicago criminal defense attorneys at Legal Defenders, P.C., visit us at www.legaldefenderspc.com or call us anytime at 1-800-228-7295.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

RECENT VICTORY: Not Guilty Verdict for Aggravated Unlawful Use of Weapon By a Felon After Trial

On Thursday I obtained a Not Guilty verdict at 26th and California after a bench trial for a client Charged with Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon By a Felon.  UUW By a Felon is a Class 2 felony in Illinois which carries a prison sentence between 3 to 7 years.  Probation is not available for a defendant convicted of UUW by a Felon.  Therefore, the consequences of a conviction would have been tragic for my client.  He would have had to serve a minimum of 3 years in prison if he had been convicted.

At the trial the police officer testified that he had received a call over the radio of a suspicious vehicle in a high crime neighborhood in Chicago.  Within a couple of minutes the officer and his partner arrived at the location and observed a vehicle matching the description of the vehicle parked in the street.  They noticed that inside the vehicle there was driver, front seat passenger and rear seat passenger.  After a couple of minutes they saw the vehicle pull away.  They started following the vehicle and pulled it over. The officer testified that when he approached the vehicle he noticed that the front seat passenger was making movements and when he looked at the back seat he saw my client sitting on a long box that looked like it contained a long rifle with the words "Cabela's" written on it.   He ordered the occupants of the vehicle to exit the vehicle and he and his partner began searching the vehicle. They opened the box that my client was sitting on and found a loaded rifle with a scope. On the rear floor of the vehicle they recovered a loaded semi-automatic firearm. The officer testified that the gun on the rear floorboard was "two feet" from where my client had been sitting.  They also recovered a loaded revolver in the glove compartment in front of the front seat passenger.  They checked the identities of the occupants of the vehicle and discovered that my client had a prior felony conviction, for which he had served prison time. They then charged my client with Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon by a Felon.

On cross examination I was able to get the officer to admit that the driver had informed him that she was the owner of the weapons.  He determined that she had a valid Firearm Owners Identification Card and when they ran a trace with the FBI for the firearms, they discovered that the rifle was registered to the driver but that the handguns were not registered to anyone.  The officer admitted that the driver of the car had told her that she had not told my client that there were guns in her car and did not know that he was a convicted felon. I also had the officer admit that my client did not make any statement to him admitting that he knew that the guns were in the car or that he had seen my client physically handle any of the firearms that were found inside the vehicle.

I called the driver of the car to testify.  She testified that the guns found inside her vehicle were owned by her. She testified that she had a valid FOID card and that she had not told my client that the guns were inside the vehicle.  She testified that earlier in the evening she had gone to the shooting range with her boyfriend.  As they were driving home they saw my client walking on the sidewalk. Her boyfriend was good friends with my client so they pulled over and picked him up to give him a ride home. Almost immediately they were pulled over by the police.  The state tried to get the witness to admit that the handguns found inside the vehicle belonged to the front seat passenger and the defendant, however, the witness insisted that the guns belonged to her.

After closing arguments the judge found my client not guilty.  He said that the state had failed to prove their case and that both the police officer and the witness were believable and that he could not determine that what the state was claiming was true after hearing all the evidence.  My client had spent roughly 7 months in Cook County Jail before we were able to have the court lower his bond and make him eligible for Electronic Monitoring.

For more information about the Chicago criminal defense attorneys at Legal Defenders, P.C., visit us at www.legaldefenderspc.com or call us anytime at 1-800-228-7295.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Texas Court Rules That Warrant Required to Search Cell Phone

A Texas Court of Appeals has ruled that people have a legitimate expectation of privacy over the contents of their cell phone which requires that police obtain a warrant prior to looking through someone's cell phone.  The case involved the case of a student, Anthony Granville, who had been arrested for causing a disturbance on a school bus.  While Granville was being booked in the police station, the school resource officer received information that Granville had taken a photograph with his cell phone of another student urinating in the school bathroom and went to the booking room, took Granville's cell phone, started looking through the contents of the phone, found the photograph and printed a copy of it. He then charged Granville with taking an unauthorized photograph, which is a felony in Georgia.  Granville's attorney's filed a Motion to Suppress in front of the trial judge, and the motion was granted and the evidence seized by the officer, mainly the photograph, was suppressed.  The Appellate Court agreed with the trial court and found that the cell phone contents were covered by the 4th Amendment and that owners of the phone have an expectation of privacy over the contents of the phone and that the people were required to obtain a warrant prior to searching through the contents of the phone.  This case is important because it touches on some of the issues involving the NSA warrantless electronic surveillance which has dominated the national discussion the past year or so.  This case stands for the proposition that people maintain an expectation of privacy in their electronic communications even though they voluntarily gave it up to someone.  The legal issues surrounding this issue are evolving and there are sure to be more changes and developments.  But this decision does represent a small victory for critics of the NSA surveillance program.  The Texas case was a 7 to 1 decision.

The case is Texas v. Granville.

For more information about the Chicago criminal defense attorneys at Legal Defenders, P.C., visit us at www.legaldefenderspc.com or call us anytime at 1-800-228-7295.