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Macro_cannabis_budEven as some states such as Colorado move to deregulate some previously controlled substances or drugs, Chicago still grapples with the offense of Marijuana possession. At the moment, the state has decriminalized possession but not the actual smoking of pot, which in itself represents a dangerous contradiction. People buy and secure marijuana (often at a great cost) in order to smoke it. Allowing possession whilst banning consumption seems to be one of those incidents in which lawmakers are just too stubborn to admit that they may have made a mistake. Instead they are being dragged screaming and scratching into reality. The consequence for the public is a sequential law that is often riddled with inconsistencies.

The state of the law at the moment must be confusing the potheads and maybe that it is how it was intended. For the defense attorney things are much clearer. Although the client may be arrested for smoking, it is usually the possession that begins the chain of offending that is of interest to the prosecutor. Some localities like Cook County have used prosecutorial policy and discretion to bring more rationality to the law. Hence arrests are made for first and second time offenders but it is rare to make it to the court unless there are other pending matters that the prosecutor wishes to deal with as the defendant is in custody. The Chicago police department also routinely fines those who are caught holding pot. This policy makes sense since everybody knows that you only hold pot when you intend to smoke it or resell it to someone else or hold it for another form of exchange.

The Mechanics and Intentions of the Law

800px-USMC-05469Credit card fraud is becoming the crime of choice for offenders in Chicago who are not particularly inclined to violence. If undetected, the crime can be staggeringly lucrative and often does not carry the stigma of outright theft, sexual depravity, or violence. It is tempting to cast credit card fraudsters as low-level miscreants who do not deserve the worst approbation of society. However this is not a victimless crime, as residents of Minooka will testify. The South West side of Chicago seems to have developed a particularly affinity for this specific economic crime. Although the law enforcement agencies have already sent out the alarm to the local population; they are not clear about what exactly causes this locality to have a higher than usual propensity for the crime.

The fraud will take a number of forms which are increasing in their complexity and scope. For example some people engage in identity fraud and impersonation. Unsuspecting victims will only realize that they have been caught in the web when they are sent a bill for goods and services that they never purchased. The fraudster will have used the victim’s identity in order to make a fraudulent application for a credit line and will proceed onto an expansive spending spree. At other times the perpetrator is far more subtle; getting the details of the card and using it to make online purchases. When the card is physically stolen, most victims will make a police report, but hardly anything ever comes out of that process because of the difficulty of tracing the culprits and the relatively low individual amounts that are involved in each incident of credit card fraud.

It is a Systemic and Structural Issue

RIP_Freddie_Gray_flyerSometimes it is hard to tell who is a victim and who is a perpetrator when it comes to intimidation and extortion crimes in Chicago. Defense attorneys have too often found themselves changing their roles in order to effectively prosecute the police department for a series of failings including gross incompetence and outright violations of the defendant’s rights. Some have argued that so called “predictive policing” is nothing more than a ploy to cover up the misdeeds of the law enforcement agencies who harass citizens particularly those from seemingly powerless and marginalized communities.

Woe befall an attorney defending someone on the “Heat List.” Effectively that person is branded a potential gang member based on fuzzy models. An arrest soon follows (sometimes repeatedly) whilst the real criminals continue to roam the streets. Nevertheless, is not too hard to sympathize with the Chicago law enforcement agencies who are faced with an increasing crime rate and the state’s reputation for grand lawlessness. They have to stab at something in the absence of a reliable predictor of criminality. In any case the US Constitution is not particularly supportive of the notion of “Preventative Arrest.” However, in their zeal to protect the public, the Chicago law enforcement agencies have gotten the basics wrong.

The Never-Ending Plight of Minority Communities

AMBER_Alert_(17727122854)Kidnapping has often been one of those crimes that captures media headlines and the national imagination. The endless post-court investigations are a cottage industry in themselves. Illinois is not much different from other parts of the US in considering kidnapping to be a serious felony that attracts significant periods of custody as punishment. However, there are situations that are not as clear-cut as the law would have it. For example, in some cases the so-called kidnapper is a parent or guardian to the victim and the report is merely part of an ongoing custody dispute. It is generally accepted that this is one area of the law in which expert advice is of the essence. Most courts would not countenance a defendant representing him or herself in a case such as this in which the potential penalties can be stiff.

Parents and the Dirty Deeds of Divorce

It is not uncommon for warring parents to devise clever means of escaping unfavorable jurisdictions. A classic case in point is taking the disputed child out of the state so as to avoid being subjected to family court rules that are favorable to the other party. In effect it is a despicable abuse of the court process as well as the children involved. However, others might argue that it may be the only way for the aggrieved parent to maintain contact with his or her children. The courts have traditionally taken a strict view of parental kidnapping given the possibility that the victim may end up suffering serious consequences including death.

800px-thumbnailRecently, President Barack Obama pardoned a number of people who had been given mandatory sentences for drug trafficking that many in the legal profession considered to be excessive. More worrisome was the notion that the judge in a court case lost the right of discretion at sentencing because the mandatory sentencing law had already effectively predetermined the outcome of that phase of a criminal trial. The law had the tragic effect of sending people to prison for virtual lifetimes for the possession of a few grams of cocaine, when convicted rapists and murderers were being given much shorter sentences. What became clear was a need for sentencing reform with reference to mandatory penalties. Illinois is considered to be one of the more liberal or progressive on this issue, but there are still contentious points.

Status of the Law in Illinois

According to the Controlled Substances Act, it is a criminal offense to manufacture, possess or deliver a controlled or counterfeit substance. The law applies to analogs of controlled substances. In order to deal with the generic drugs that are extracted from an original formula, the act also affects those substances that are intended for human consumption but are listed within Schedule I and II of the said act. The law was designed to have a sliding scale of punishments that was heaviest for those actors that engaged in illicit trafficking as well as those who headed the profit chains for those activities. The rationale was that those who benefitted from the drug trade were somehow insulated from its consequences and the relatively lenient punishments meted out to them emphasized the impression that they were not as culpable as those who actually used or distributed the drugs.

443px-Chicago_Theatre_2For a long time gun control advocates have been looking for a test locality that would finally confirm to them that access to firearms does not lead to a reduction to crime. Chicago is as good a place as any when it comes to highlighting the contradictions between gun access and crime rates. The first part of this examination must go back to an assessment of whether the gun laws in the state are strict or even stricter than usual when one compares them with the rest of America. Critics are quick to brand the state a Mecca of gun laws whereas state officials are at pains to present their interventions as not only being sensible, but ultimately being essential to the maintenance of good order within the state. As is often his way, Donald Trump has opted to strip down the complex arguments into a sound byte for his presidential campaign, calling Chicago a “disaster” with the “single toughest gun laws.”

Keeping the Guns Away from Trigger-Happy People

The rationale for the Chicago gun laws was to ensure that nobody had access to guns so that they would not end up shooting one another. Unfortunately, criminals have a tendency not to follow the law, so they went ahead and secured guns illegally. As a consequence, Chicago still has one of the highest levels of gun violence despite the fact that the legislature there has done everything in its power to limit access to guns. Those who favor a liberal approach to gun ownership rules argue that the best remedy is to allow every law-abiding citizen to own a gun so that they can fight back when the criminals attack. By contrast, those who are of the view that there should be significant gun control argue that all this would achieve is a war of attrition in which the public and criminals bought more and more guns. There is no shortage of shooting incidents in Chicago to support or dispute any of the standpoints that are mentioned above.

DSC04156-BThe state and definition of counterfeiting laws will tell you a lot about the community in which they are designed and implemented. Illinois is no exception. The state has a set of complex and situational rules relating to counterfeiting and forgery; a true Pandora’s Box for a diligent attorney. For the most part, the law seems to target those who create forged money, but there are many other forms of falsification that are captured by the legislation. A person is guilty of a crime in Illinois when he or she creates or uses written documents that have been falsified or altered in significant ways. In this case the constituent ingredients of the crime can encompass both the making of forged/altered documents as well as possessing them with the intention of using them for illegal purposes.

A Counterfeiting Law for the New Age

As criminals in this area have become more sophisticated in their modus operandi, the law has been forced to play catch-up. For example it recognized the use of false documents for defrauding in which possession is disputed as well as the effects of subtle alteration using digital means (720 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/17-3). The classic case is that of a forged check that is successfully cashed by a third party because the signature on it appears to be authentic to the recipient bank regardless of whether or not the account holder actually gave permission for that cheque to be paid. The elderly and those with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to this type of fraud. As the case made it through the courts, it became a gradually-established norm that the instrument used to defraud must be credible to an ordinary reasonable person. Hence where the forgery is almost comical in its design and presentation, the user may be able to escape a criminal charge.

Bride_and_groomAlthough domestic violence remains one of the more grisly aspects of criminal law, it is busy enough to keep the average attorney in work for a long time. Sadly, there are far too many people in Illinois who feel that it is acceptable for them to continue battering their intimate partners despite the fact that the law is clearly against them. However, in the quest to legislate and litigate issues of domestic violence; there is a danger of failing to account for the modern complexities surrounding the issue. For example, the notion that men are perpetrators while women are victims is beginning to fail the empirical test. All that happens is that many men who are victims feel that they will be stigmatized if they admit in open court that they have effectively been battered by their partners. The law is also not yet up to date when it comes to managing the incidents that occur amongst unconventional family structures including blended families and same sex couples.

A New Reading of the Illinois Domestic Violence Act

To its credit, Illinois has been one of the states to significantly legislate in this area and there are plenty of test cases to show that the courts are treating prosecutions with the seriousness they deserve. Nevertheless there are still victims of domestic violence, many of them who are too afraid to file a complaint. Currently the law states that it is a criminal act to choke, hit, kick, harass, threaten or hold against their will; any member of a household or family. The definition of household members is specific and includes blood relatives, married/divorced couples, those who share dwellings; people linked by a child or other blood bond, those who are dating/engaged, people with disabilities, and personal assistants. Some would argue that the law is too prescriptive and limits the applicability of prosecution depending on the relationship that exists between the two people. For example it is not clear that the law would capture “friends with benefits” or “one night stands” even though those might be prosecuted under common assault laws.

800px-Englewood_Chicago_1Chicago has struggled to get rid of its reputation as the murder capital of the world. Some would argue that Johannesburg in South Africa and some cities in Middle East would give Chicago a run for its money. However the reality is that there are far too many homicides in the state. It is almost always a narrative of poor choices, deprived backgrounds, and a criminal justice system that is hard-pressed to cope with the epidemic. Malik Causey is a case in point. Starting with petty theft and teenage rebellion; he ended up in a gang and was soon shot by a rival. His mother Monique Causey describes how she desperately wanted the police to arrest her son in order to keep him off the streets, and by extension the gangs that he had admired so much in his teenage years and then proceeded to join with disastrous consequences.

Although touching in its own right, this case is just one of the 91 homicides that were committed during August of 2016 within Chicago. This has been described as the deadliest month within the city for nearly 20 years. The current annual increase in homicides stands at 46% by some estimates. Chicago is way past the magic number of 500 homicides per year. For context, it is worth noting that the total killings in the city outweigh the combined total of New York and Los Angeles (no safe havens themselves if the crime statistics from there are to be believed). The more dramatic analysts have described this as a kind of massacre on American streets.

Finding the Root Causes of the Violence

450px-Bankrupt_computer_storeThe Illinois felony murder rule is a heavily debated topic. In fact, the Illinois law is one of the broadest in the country. The suspect of an armed robbery committed in Carpentersville, IL is being charged with murder because his accomplice died during the execution of the crime. U.S. Marshals apprehended the suspect, Bobby Heard, 32, in St. Louis, Missouri, according to the Kane County state’s attorney’s office.

At around 7:30 PM Heard and his partner, Kenyon R. Slater, 37, armed with handguns, broke into a computer store on the 1600 block of Ravish Lane according to Carpentersville police and prosecutors. After restraining two employees and pistol whipping one, the thieves grabbed cash and electronic equipment before fleeing the store. While Slater and Heard were fleeing the scene one of the store employees broke free, picked up a handgun, ran toward the thieves, and shot Slater in the store parking lot, according to prosecutors.

According to the Kane County coroner’s office, Slater, a Chicago resident, was driven to Sherman Hospital in Elgin, IL where he later passed away. Heard fled the scene in a vehicle that was driven by an unknown third suspect. A warrant was later issued for his arrest, charging him with a felony count of armed robbery and felony murder for the death Slater.