Stalking in Chicago: Public Protection Issue in the Law

ran-berkovich-59513-copy-300x200Stalking is a complex crime that can take many guises. The summary of relevant laws shows that no single law has been comprehensive enough to capture all criminality. That is why the law relating to it is constantly changing in Chicago. Efforts have focused on public protection and privacy laws. However, the stalkers are so complex in their behavior that it remains virtually impossible to come up with a catch-all set of laws that are applicable in each case. Recently the state introduced bills that made it much easier to charge suspects. This was in the wake of complex prosecutions during which it seemed as if the victim was on trial. The downside to the new legislative arrangements is that they sometimes infringe on the rights of the defendants. That is where the defending attorney must be particularly vigilant.

Typically, stalking is a crime that is tied up with domestic violence or even spousal abuse according to the provisions of 720 ILCS 5/12-7.3. In the past the social service agencies were unable to pinpoint the culprits because they were essentially protected by privacy laws as well as a routine dismissal of minor domestic disputes. Eventually the victim would learn that the law enforcement agencies were powerless to capture the suspect unless there was clear evidence of violence or threats of violence. The stalkers themselves exploited this loophole in order to stay ahead of the law enforcement agencies at all times. Meanwhile the victim was left to his or her own devices, essentially existing in a surveillance state until the stalker either gave up or was apprehended on another charge.

The New Legislative Regime and Practice Notes

The balance has shifted significantly in favor of the victims. They now need not prove actual violence but rather behavior that amounts to harassment by stalking. That may be a physical process or one that is undertaken using the medium of modern technology. The results of such reforming changes are that the prosecutions and successful convictions are much higher in Chicago than they were five years ago. Depending on the side of the court in which you are sitting, this can be a good or bad thing. Defense attorneys need to pay particular attention to the civil liberties of their clients and should always critically examine the prosecutorial process as well as the use of the resultant discretionary powers.

It is true that the current legislation has broadened the meaning of stalking in order to take into account the increasing sophistication of the crime. Nevertheless, that does not imply that the old rules about fairness are to be thrown out of the window. Of course, the prosecutor is likely to be less concerned about the welfare of the defendant. That is why the defending attorney should vigorously pursue the discovery process so that fairness is ultimately ensured.

Handling Protective Orders

The other strand of the reform might also come into play because victims are able to secure protective orders on evidence that might not be sustainable in a criminal court (see the Relerford case). The defending attorney should warn his or her client that the protective order is something of a last chance salon. It is the final step before the court can impose significant sentences for infringement. The failure to follow the protective order can be used as evidence in the criminal trial. When offering advice to clients, the emphasis is always on ensuring that the harassment does not escalate. If there is no reasonable justification for the interaction between the client and victim, then it is not wise to resist the protective order. Rather, it is in the client’s best interests to stay as far away from the victim as possible. Of course, this is complex if there are custody sharing arrangements. If you need help with your case, you need an expert lawyer who will take care of you. Call David Freidberg, Attorney at Law at 312-560-7100 now.

(image courtesy of Ran Berkovich)