Articles Posted in Weapons Charges

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

DSC06084-B2The rationale behind the laws relating to unlawful use of a weapon in Chicago are simple. First of all, they are designed to protect the public from harm by making it incredibly difficult and illegal to obtain a firearm. Secondly, the rules must take into account the perspectives of the gun lobby, which aims to take guns out of the hands of criminals whilst allowing unfettered access to the rest of the population. Recently there has been concern about mentally disordered people who may have no criminal record and therefore fully entitled to own a gun until they engage in mass killings. Those who deal with civil rights are not satisfied with the uneasy compromise because according to them the law is never blind in these instances. Ethnic minorities are likely to get stiff punishments for illegally owning a gun and yet when “white” defendants engage in mass murder; every effort is made (led by a compliant media) to find psychological defenses for them.

Preparing to Defend a Case of Unlawful Use of a Weapon

The attorney is expected to engage in what amounts to a background check of their defendants. This was particularly important in a high profile case that involved the gang-related drive-by shooting of Michael Arquero. The victim in this case soon turned into a defendant and the discovery was now all about proving that Arquero was not really as bad as his criminal record indicated. Using aliases he had been able to access weapons, highlighting the weaknesses of the entire system. The defense strategy that was chosen for the occasion was that of self-defense; one which sometimes requires the appearance of “clean hands” under the rules of equity. Following the investigation the prosecutors still accepted the prima facie case that Arquero had shot his attackers in self-defense although it appeared that he had no right to have a gun in the first place.

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.

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

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A new study out of the Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health finds that lawful gun owners commit less than a fifth of gun crimes in the United States. The study traced the origins of every firearm recovered from crime scenes in 2008 and found that in roughly eight out of ten cases the perpetrator had been in illegal possession of the gun at the time of the crime. The study focused on how legally purchased firearms ended up at crime scenes and found that more than 30% of the guns had been stolen.

However, firearms enter the black market in a variety of other ways, as well. For example, an article from the Washington Post notes that many guns wind up on the black market via “straw purchases.” A straw purchase occurs when an individual with a clean record purchases a gun from a legal dealer and then passes the gun along to someone else who could not legally purchase the weapon. Gangs often orchestrate straw purchases and sometimes even have a designated member who maintains a clean record in order to furnish other gang members with firearms. According to a study conducted by the University of Chicago Crime Lab, criminals in Chicago also tend to acquire illegal firearms mostly via personal connections.

Who is Legally Prohibited from Owning a Firearm in Illinois?

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Last month, African American teenager Paul O’Neal was killed when a Chicago police officer shot him in the back during a controversial arrest. This shooting has outraged the African American community in Chicago and has worsened the already strained relationship between the police and the community. In fact, Fox News reports that three Chicago gangs are plotting to shoot police officers in retaliation. Apparently the Chicago Police Department (CPD) alerted its officers last week that three local gangs, the Vice Lords, the Black Disciples, and the Four Corner Hustlers, met in order to exchange guns and discuss plans to shoot CDP officers.  

Penalties for Killing, Harming, or Intimidating a Police Officer

Under federal law 18 U.S.C. § 1121, it is a capital offense to intentionally kill a state or local law enforcement officer or employee, who is working with federal law enforcement officials during a criminal investigation,:

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There is no doubt about it, this year Chicago is experiencing a serious spike in shootings and murders. In fact, ABC7  reports that there were 65 fatal shootings in July alone. What is to blame for this spike in violence? While there are undoubtedly many contributing factors, the head of the Chicago Police Union claims that police paperwork is in large part to blame. In an interview with DNAinfo the union leader explained that the problem does not exclusively stem from paperwork issues, but that the implementation of two-page Investigative Stop Reports has led to fewer police stops and, therefore, more violent crimes being perpetrated on the streets.

Chicago’s New Two-Page Investigative Stop Reports

Starting on January 1, 2016, Chicago’s old checklist contact cards were replaced with two-page Investigative Stop Reports. Under the old contact card system, every time a police officer interacted with a civilian on the street the officer would document the encounter via a simple checklist on an index-sized contact card. However, police officers are now required to document each encounter by filling out a two-page questionnaire. This new requirement means that police officers in Chicago are spending much more time filling out paperwork and much less time interacting with people on the street. An article from DNAinfo notes that during the first 11 days under the new policy there was a 79% decrease in police stops. The article states that there were just 3,916 investigative reports filed during these 11 days, compared to the 16,698 reports that were filed during the same period last year under the old system. This difference is clearly astronomical.

79aaa5031c08291c62c195e3bbb734c1At first blush, the idea of predictive policing sounds a lot like something out of the movie Minority Report. In order to target their policing efforts, the Chicago Police Department uses a high-tech database of persons, which it refers to as the Strategic Subject List, who are most likely to be shot or to shoot someone. With murder rate on the rise, up 50% from last year, and an ever-increasing number of shooting victims, the department has ramped up its raids and is actively using this database to prevent violent crime. In the first half of 2016, there were 1934 shooting victims and 326 homicide victims in Chicago. From January 1 to December 31 of 2015, these figures were 2988 and 490, respectively. See Chicago Tribune articles for more. Chicago homicides; Chicago shootings.

The “list” contains a list of persons who are most likely to be shot soon or to shoot someone based on a computer algorithm that calculates a score based on arrests, shootings, affiliations with gang members and other variables. It ranks each person based on their score; the higher one’s score, the higher the probability he or she may be a victim or perpetrator of gun violence.  The algorithm does not use race, ethnicity, gender, or geography as a factor.

In the last two months, this list has helped the police crack down on deeply entrenched drug rings, particularly in Uptown and East Garfield Park. According to Chief Anthony Riccio, the head of the Department’s Organized Crime Division, the drug operations were run by local street gangs, and the proceeds from drug sales went to buying guns and funding other criminal acts by the gangs. In the last week of April, 70 people were arrested in East Garfield. Of the 70 people, 54 were charged with felony narcotics delivery or possession; nearly all of them – 49 out of 54 – were on the Department’s Strategic Subjects List. An additional 16 people were arrested in drug raids in Uptown during the same time period. Police targeted the drug rings that were selling heroin laced with fentanyl, which has been causing fatal overdoses in Chicago and its suburbs.   

POLICE OFFICER-SIDEARMThe city of Chicago has enacted some of the toughest gun laws in the United States in an attempt to control the city’s notoriously high rates of violent crime. Measures that they could not legislate to the satisfaction of the city council and Chicago police department without running afoul of the United States Constitution, politicians got around by making ownership restrictions so onerous that the average citizen could not, for practical purposes, legally own firearms anyway. Despite cautions from pro-gun groups and civil libertarians, Chicago’s city government had to learn for itself that strict gun control laws only prevent the law-abiding from possessing guns.

Legal Challenges

While the city leadership in Chicago seemed to think it would be acceptable to simply ignore Federal laws and the constitution of the United States, by practical effect or force of law, legal challenges have since worked their way through the system, and the United States Supreme Court has struck down a number of the significant illegal policies that the city has attempted to push on the citizens of Chicago. Gun stores are again conducting business within city limits, and concealed carry licenses are being issued. While this may seem initially to be a benefit for the residents of Chicago, it has caused some issues, as well.

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Violence is on our streets, in our communities, and in our schools. Chicago weekend street violence has become a constant, so much so that no one seems to be surprised at the total number of people who are murdered on any given weekend. Whenever we have a school shooting or any other violent act in which a gun is used, the subject of gun control will inevitably be introduced soon thereafter.

Gun control, as we know it, is a regulation of the manufacture, sale, transfer, possession, modification, and use of firearms. Proponents of gun control argue that it is needed in order to control crime and to reduce violence. While opponents insist that there is a Constitutional right in this country to bear arms (own a gun) established by our founding fathers, and that right cannot be infringed upon or abridged by any laws enacted by the individual states. It should be noted that United States has some of the most liberal “gun laws” in the world. By comparison, such countries like the United Kingdom have very strict limitations on gun possession.

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