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3scbuulajgg-matthew-hamilton-300x200If you were to ask any experienced defendant whether he or she would want to be represented by a public defender, the results might indicate a high level of unwillingness. This reluctance to place trust in a public defender is a consequence of years a negative reputation, which has been reinforced by a system that employs many people who have no business working in criminal justice, let alone any other helping profession. At the same time, we know that many of the people who are charged with a criminal offense do not have the funds to hire an expert attorney to represent them. The national statistics indicate an indigence level of about 80% amongst all arrestees.

Since poor people make up a disproportionately large segment of those who are arrested for felonies, the services of the public defender become an important cornerstone of the criminal justice system. Negligent and incompetent public defenders not only let down their immediate clients but also reduce public confidence in the system. This might mean that innocent people decide to abscond rather than take their chances with a system that has been shown to be unfair and unpredictable.

It is all too easy to write off the public defender as a practically failed attorney who cannot make it in the commercial world. We also question whether these defenders provide value for money. At the same time, we know that some public defenders are among the most committed and hardworking members of the legal community. What, then, is the problem that makes them yield such poor results?

antonio-grosz-148540-copy-300x200Today, hate crimes are at the forefront of the struggle to create safe communities for everyone int his country. Those that accused the legislators of political correctness still make their points, but the vast majority of the public recognizes that hate crimes are never acceptable and must be prosecuted with the vigor that they deserve. Chicago is one of the areas that has struggled with a significant upsurge in hate crimes.

The state decided to tackle the problem using a combination of community policing, sensitization, and even outright legislation: the Illinois Hate Crime Act (IHCA), which is summarized under the legislative instrument number 720 ILCS 5/12-7.1. There are many procedures and processes in place that are designed to ensure that a fair and accurate outcome is delivered. This is a response to the historical and long-standing abuses in the criminal justice system, which ensured that many culprits of hate crimes got away with them. At the height of the Civil Rights movements, the Ku Klux Klan was literally enforcing its own version of vigilante justice against those who were deemed to be racially inferior.

Understanding the Imperatives and Implications of the New Regime

wil-stewart-24563-copy-300x200The prosecutor or defending attorney who deals with underage drinking in Chicago is probably one of the busiest in the business. This is a law that catches the people who are most vulnerable to breaking it. At the moment, the minimum drinking age is 21 years, but some consider it too high with the suggestion for a reduction to as low as 16 years of age. It is important to note that this is a law that not only captures those who infringe on it directly but also parents who host the offenders. That means that legal ramifications of underage drinking can go beyond merely arresting and releasing an impulsive teenager.

There are certain unique parts of the law that are designed to capture the realities of life in Chicago. For example, recognition is given to the fact that some parents legitimately allow their children to drink alcohol as part of religious ceremonies. The provision comes with a supervisory requirement, which otherwise makes it a crime. Therefore, the parent must be supervising the child when he or she is consuming alcohol for religious purposes. Moreover, such activity must only take place within the confines of the family home and nowhere else. Otherwise, it is still a crime.

Responsibilities and Terms

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Any death in custody is a tragedy on a personal level, but it also raises civil rights issues that cannot be ignored. For example, race and class are important predictors of vulnerability of incarcerated individuals. Many of the people that die in custody are poor and ethnic minorities. Whether the police admit it or not, the public perceives systemic abuses that culminate in the violation of people’s basic and fundamental rights. The case of Laquan McDonald is no longer that unique. The typical narrative seems to be that of a white officer shooting an unarmed young black man. Although the law enforcement agencies try to argue that this a reflection of criminal proclivities, the reality is that the disproportion is so great as to cause public disquiet.

In the courts, the judges are primed to believe the law enforcement agencies until and unless there is irrefutable evidence against them. The introduction of the video camera and smart phone has meant that local vigilantes can poke holes into the official story that is provided by the police. Whether this is a positive development is open to debate. The mantra of institutional racism has become a catchall phrase for all the ills and mismanagement that are associated with law enforcement agencies across the board, and not just within the precincts of Chicago.

When the Duty of Care is Not Met

elliott-stallion-105205-copy-300x200The battle for same-day voter registration in Chicago highlights some of the constitutional anomalies and controversies that have dogged the USA since its inception. All the judicial decisions made are subject to intense debate. There are those that believe in the absolute right to access the ballot regardless of the bureaucratic inconvenience that it causes. Others are of the view that if you really want to vote, then the government does provide avenues for you to vote. By the same token, if you fail to turn up, there is nobody but yourself to blame for that particular failing.

Meanwhile, the civil rights activists are up in arms about the possible exclusion of whole swathes of the populace who are simply unable to fulfill the bureaucratic requirements for voting in Chicago. The courts have traditionally been reluctant to create rights where none exist and also to prevent the use of arbitrary decision-making. One particular area of contention involves the perceived and actual differences between the rules that apply in rural areas of Illinois and those that are associated with the urban centers.

The Rationale for Voter Registration Law

spenser-h-194645-copy-300x195Chicago is a city that has long been criticized for failing on transparency, accountability, and justice issues. Some of these criticisms are not based on fact but are rather like urban myths. They grow and have lives of their own, the facts of the matter being largely inconsequential. The city has adopted a unique approach that takes into consideration the views and perspectives of those who work within the criminal justice system. Hence, there are proposals for a sitting or retired judge to oversee the entire process. This inclusive approach brings the police into the fold rather than treating them as sworn enemies of civil liberties.

Other cities have a somewhat different approach to reform. They consider their own law enforcement agencies to be fundamentally anti-people. Therefore, the reform process is necessarily imposed on them rather than being a natural progression towards organizational development. In this case, the format is that of a public inquiry with all the requisite appearance of interrogations and investigations.

Not surprisingly, some members of the Chicago police forces are not entirely pleased with the latter approach. They believe that they too are part of the reform agenda and desire to provide high-quality services to the citizenry. Even when mistakes are made, they are nothing more than that. It is not a case of corrupt agencies taking away the rights of the people.

samuel-zeller-4138-copy-300x198The temping industry in Chicago has often failed the minimum standards test when it comes to workers’ rights and other pertinent matters. For a start, many of these agencies will attempt to pay below the minimum wage or just at the minimum wage with the proviso that there are other agency fees that effectively reduce the take-home pay even further. The hiring malpractice of some of some temping agencies includes engaging in unlawful discrimination based on age, race, gender, nationality, and disability. Even where there is compliance, it is often at a bare minimum in order to avoid prosecution.

This is an important consideration for the law not least because it entails a growing workforce sector that has significant implications for the economy. The people who are affected by the malpractice are some of the most vulnerable in the community, and they end up facing a judicial system that does not seem to respond to their needs. Unless it is a class action, this is not a very lucrative endeavor for lawyers, and that can sometimes hinder progress in terms of bringing the human rights issues to the fore.

Understanding How an Industry Can be Corrupted

tim-graf-202490-copy-300x200Few laws have created the angst that is experienced in the stop-and-search era. The basic premise is that if you come from an ethnic minority, then the chances are that you will be more likely to be stripped and searched than a member of the mainstream community, which is primarily white Caucasian in this context. It is a violation of civil liberties. There are numerous reports of these powers being abused.

The law enforcement agencies may hide behind the notion that they are merely engaging in a consensual process, but consensus can never be achieved if one of the parties to the cause is so much more powerful and influential. The power of arrest and charge is particularly compelling to any would-be suspect when he or she is deciding whether or not to resist the arrest. The law enforcement agencies have attempted to report this as a practical matter of people from ethnic minorities committing more crimes more often than their mainstream white Caucasian counterparts. Other social researchers disagree with this premise because it does not account for the impact of the systemic deprivations with which these ethnic minorities have to contend.

Working Towards a Sustainable Model

dmitry-ratushny-64773-copy-300x199Unfortunately, Chicago has acquired a reputation for child trafficking and is one of the crisis points recognized in the national strategy. Some of the people involved are supposed to be intimate partners who end up turning on the victims and forcing them to engage in indecent employment for little or no compensation. The practice is sometimes fueled by an illicit drug and sex work industry. Grooming is a very important step in getting someone to give up his or her rights, and that is where children are particularly vulnerable. They lack a sense of judgement and the perpetrators tend to look for those who are on the margins of society. Runaway kids are especially susceptible to this type of crime and the social service agencies in Chicago have attempted to do some preventative work.

In previous times, the law was insensitive to the fact that the victims may be engaging in illegal activity through no fault or volition of their own. That is why it was important to focus instead on the pimps who stand on the wayside in order to capture the illegally-acquired largesse from the trade. There are instances in which the victim is offered support whilst the perpetrator faces the full weight of a criminal prosecution. The reality is that many victims are so traumatized and frightened that they end up not raising a complaint in situations in which their cooperation is of the utmost importance.

A Comprehensive Strategy

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It is interesting to note that many people who say hateful things immediately run to the “freedom of speech” mantra when they are called out on it. This is the kind of dilemma that the law in Chicago has to contend with. In the worst-case scenarios, a successful case of defamation is brought to bear and there are significant consequences for the perpetrators. The internet has allowed for anonymous speech to prosper, and somehow people have forgotten their basic responsibility for common decency. On a daily basis, individuals and institutions are slandered and defamed on the internet in the knowledge that the fight back will be difficult or nearly impossible. The statute of limitations may protect those who count on the possibility that the victim will take an inordinately long to complain to the authorities.

Chicago Decides to Weigh in

For a long time, there was a misconception that you can only defame the rich and famous. Over time, the citizens of Chicago have recognized the fact that virtually everybody but the dead can be defamed and slandered. Moreover, the results of such actions can be quite serious, including the loss of employment and valued relationships. The court will normally deal with the plaintiff, defendant, and any other third parties. It is much harder to prove that you are affected by slander or defamation if you do not fall into the two principle parties in the cause of action. Indeed, there is a substantial body of case law to show that the courts are particularly careful to exclude unfounded causes that are based on some unproven pain and suffering.