Articles Posted in Aggravated Discharge of Firearm

800px-Seized_firearms-300x200One of the most common crimes in Chicago is that of the unlawful discharge of a firearm. This article focuses on some of the aggravating and mitigating features that might influence the sentencing process. It is important for the attorney to note that some of these features are precisely the points of argument that might be used to challenge a finding of guilt or sow seeds of reasonable doubt amongst members of the jury (see the procedures in the Gerardo Hernandez–Rodriguez case). Generally speaking, recklessness without malicious intent is treated more leniently than in situations where the defendant has deliberately gone out of his or her way to use a firearm to commit another crime.

Chicago remains one of the harshest when it comes to gun laws, even though gun crime continues to rise. For the courts all that this trend has achieved is to increase the level of aggression amongst lawyers on both sides of the case. One area of particular interest is the level of injury compared to the original intent of the assailant. Shooting in the air is considerably less serious than shooting at a crowd. Typically, the aggravated form of the crime is automatically upgraded to a felony, which significantly increases the risk of long term custody.

Key Issues in the Pre-Trial Phase

A Chicago man was charged with aggravated battery with a firearm, reckless discharge of a firearm and vehicular invasion following a shooting at a Cook County Preserve soccer field on Labor Day that injured one other man. The alleged shooter then tried to flee the scene by stealing a vehicle.

Chicago Defense to AggraOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAvated Discharge of a Firearm

A person commits the Illinois crime of aggravated discharge of a firearm if he “discharges a firearm in the direction of another person.” In this case, we would first challenge the validity of the defendant’s identification as the shooter, looking first at whether gunpowder residue was found on the defendant’s hands or clothes, or whether his fingerprints were found on the weapon.

We would also challenge any eyewitness descriptions of the shooter. There were approximately 2,000 people present at the soccer game, given the chaos that ensued after the shots were fired, eyewitnesses would have difficulty accurately describing the shooter, let alone determining who fired the weapon. Another important point concerns whether the eyewitness descriptions of the shooter match the defendant. If the witness descriptions do not match, it would indicate a different person was responsible for the gun’s discharge.

Assuming eyewitnesses could positively identify the defendant as the individual who discharged the firearm, or if gunpowder residue shows the defendant fired the gun, a successful defense would require a thorough examination of the weapon to determine whether discharge was due to a malfunction. If the weapon discharged due to malfunction, the defendant cannot be charged or convicted of reckless discharge. David L. Freidberg’s team of forensic experts would examine all of the evidence surrounding discharge of the weapon to determine whether another explanation exists for its discharging.

Chicago Defense to Aggravated Battery

A person commits the Illinois charge of aggravated battery based on use of a firearm if he discharges that firearm and causes injury to another person. In this case, we would employ many of the same defenses as in the aggravated discharge of a firearm: challenge the identification of the shooter, as well as any evidence indicating he was actually the shooter. Forensic experts would thoroughly examine the defendant for evidence of gunpowder residue on his hands or clothes (or review police reports on these findings) to determine if the prosecution can prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant fired the weapon.

If the evidence proves the defendant did in fact fire the weapon, we would again examine whether there is another reason the weapon discharged, other than through the defendant’s intent. A charge of aggravated battery based on use of a firearm requires the defendant “knowingly” discharge the weapon. If the weapon malfunctioned, he did not knowingly discharge the weapon.  Continue reading

The Illinois Supreme Court recently upheld a Chicago man’s conviction on a charge of aggravated discharge of a firearm toward a police officer, despite the fact that the defendant did not fire the weapon and claims he was unaware the shooter was armed.

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Illinois Common Criminal Design Rule

In People v. Fernandez, Fernandez was convicted of a single charge of aggravated discharge of a firearm toward a police officer (he was initially charged with one count of burglary and two counts of aggravated discharge, but the trial court merged the three charges into a single charge). Fernandez and his friend drove to a church under the Dan Ryan Expressway, where the friend attempted to burglarize a vehicle. Fernandez’ friend was approached by a police officer and opened fire as Fernandez drove away.

Fernandez claimed he had no idea that his friend had a gun.

A Chicago resident commits the crime of aggravated discharge of a firearm toward a police officer if he “knowingly or intentionally” discharges a firearm in the direction of a police officer. If Fernandez did not fire the weapon, how, then, could his conviction have been upheld?

In a previous post I discussed the felony murder rule, which allows a defendant who commits a forcible felony to be charged with murder if the victim dies during the commission of the felony, even though the defendant did not cause the victim’s death. The theory behind the felony murder rule is that forcible felonies are inherently dangerous crimes, so the defendant should know there is high likelihood that the victim will be injured or killed.

The common design rule is the felony murder equivalent to non-forcible felonies. Under the common design rule, if two or more people are involved in a common design agreement, any acts committed by one party in furtherance of that common design “are considered to be the acts of all parties . . .and all are equally responsible for the consequences of those further acts.”

Fernandez argued that because he did not know that his friend was armed, he cannot be held responsible for aggravated discharge of a weapon toward a police officer, and because he did not know his companion planned to commit that crime. The court rejected this argument, stating that because Fernandez admitted that he intended to help his friend burglarize the vehicle (by knowingly driving him around town looking for vehicles to burglarize), he is equally responsible for his friend’s conduct. “Conduct”, the court stated, “encompasses any criminal act done in furtherance of the planned and intended act.” In this case, Fernandez’ companion discharged his weapon toward the police officer in furtherance of the burglary, i.e., in an attempt to evade arrest.

Therefore, under the common design rule, just as in the felony murder rule, intent is irrelevant. What is relevant is whether the defendant intended to commit the underlying crime. If the prosecution can prove that, then all parties to the crime are responsible for the actions of the others.

Continue reading

A Chicago man was charged with aggravated battery, aggravated discharge of a firearm and aggravated discharge of a firearm near a school in late May following a shooting of a man near a Lawndale elementary school.

Chicago Aggravated Discharge of Firearm

You can find an in-depth discussion on the differences between battery and aggravated battery on my website, and last week I discussed one aspect of aggravated discharge of a firearm on the blog, as it pertains to firing at a vehicle. Discharge of a firearm is also automatically upgraded to ‘aggravated’ if the discharge occurs within 1,000 feet of school property or any school activity, regardless of whether school is actually in session.

As odd as it seems, in this case if the shooting had occurred 1,001 feet from the school, the defendant would have been charged simply with aggravated battery and discharge of a firearm. But because the shooting occurred closer to the school, he was slapped with the additional charge of aggravated discharge of a firearm, all because of the location.

Aggravated discharge of a firearm near a school is a Class X felony, punishable by no less than 10 and no more than 45 years in prison.

Defense Against Aggravated Discharge of a Firearm near School

As in any criminal defense, the first step is to determine whether the evidence supports a conclusion that the defendant was in fact the shooter. Eyewitness testimony is often unreliable. If that is the only evidence tying the defendant to the scene of the crime, it can often be successfully disputed in court, particularly if other evidence tends to disprove the prosecution’s contention that the defendant committed the crime.

If the charges were based in whole or in part on forensic evidence, it is important that a team of forensic experts examine the evidence in order to determine whether the prosecution’s experts came to the right conclusion. For example, if an arrest was made based on forensic evidence linking the gun to the defendant, we would want to examine:

  • Whether the defendant’s fingerprints were found on the weapon;
  • Whether any other fingerprints were found on the weapon, and;
  • Whether gunpowder residue matching the weapon was found on the defendant.

Lack of fingerprints or gunpowder residue linking the defendant to the weapon, or the presence of another set of fingerprints on the weapon, would help plant doubt on the prosecution’s assertion that the defendant was in fact the shooter.

Aggravated discharge of a firearm requires that the defendant intentionally fired his weapon. Our team of forensic experts would also examine whether there is any possibility that the gun could have been discharged due to a malfunction. If this were the case, it would negate the intentional requirement and result in a dismissal of the charge.

Aggravated discharge of a firearm in Illinois also requires that the defendant knowingly discharged the firearm near the school. If it can be shown that the defendant did not know that he was in a school zone when the shooting occurred – for example, if there were no signs at the location of the discharge indicating that he was in a school zone – then it may be possible to have the charges dismissed. Continue reading

A Chicago man was charged last week with aggravated discharge of a firearm after firing shots at another vehicle on the Dan Ryan Expressway. The victim’s car sideswiped a second vehicle, causing it to crash into a center divider. Additional charges are expected to be filed.

Chicago Aggravated Discharge of Firearm  

A person commits the crime of aggravated discharge of a firearm in Illinois if the firearm is discharged “in the direction of a vehicle he or she knows or reasonably should know to be occupied by a person.” Aggravated discharge of a firearm is a Class 1 felony, and carries with it the possibility of 4-15 years in prison.   car-accident-2-774605-m

There is no need to prove intent to harm in order to be convicted of aggravated discharge of a firearm. Just having fired the weapon in the direction of a vehicle is enough.

The police indicate that additional charges may be filed. One potential charge may be for aggravated battery. This crime occurs when a person discharges a firearm and causes injury to another person. In this case, the alleged shooter could potentially face two counts of aggravated battery – one against the person the shots were fired at, and a second for injuring the driver of the second vehicle.

The alleged shooter can be charged with aggravated battery in this case – even though he did not directly cause the injury to the second driver – because his action of discharging the firearm set in motion the chain of events that caused the second driver to be injured.

Defenses to Illinois Charge of Aggravated Discharge of Firearm

In this case, as the firearm was discharged toward a moving vehicle, it would seem there is little room to make the argument that the defendant did not reasonably know the vehicle fired at was occupied. However, that does not mean there are no available defenses.

In any criminal case, the first line of defense would be to determine whether the eyewitnesses identified the correct individual. In this case, the shooting happened while the vehicles were driving on the expressway at high speeds. It also occurred at night. Both these facts tend to make it more difficult for the eyewitnesses to identify the shooter, so a careful review of their testimony is necessary to ensure the police arrested the right man.

Close examination of the forensic evidence in this case is necessary to ensure that the prosecution charges the correct person. In this situation, the vehicle from which the shots were fired was occupied by the alleged shooter and a passenger. A team of experts would examine the forensic evidence to make sure there are no other possible explanations regarding the shooter’s identity.

Evidence that may be present to cast doubt on the shooter’s identity could include:

  • Gunpowder residue found on the passenger’s hands, which could indicate that she was the shooter;
  • Lack of gunpowder residue found on the alleged shooter’s hands, which could disprove that he was the shooter;
  • The passenger’s fingerprints being found on the weapon, and;
  • Lack of the alleged shooter’s fingerprints on the weapon.

While acquittal is always the goal, if it seems unlikely from a review of the evidence that acquittal is possible, an attorney would seek to reduce the charges to reckless discharge of a firearm. This would require review of the weapon to determine if the evidence can support a conclusion that the discharge was unintentional and due to a defect or other mechanical problem with the weapon. Forensic experts would assist in examining the weapon to determine whether the discharge was due to a weapon malfunction. Continue reading