Articles Tagged with Chicago defense lawyer

The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the decision of a lower court of appeals and reinstated the first-degree murder conviction and 70-year sentence of Mark Downs, who shot and killed a 6-year-old boy, Nico Contreras, in his sleep. The convicted murderer fired a gun into a bedroom window at the Aurora home of the victim’s grandparents on July 10, 1996. During the trial. the court instructed the jury that it was their duty to define reasonable doubt in the case, which an appeals court ruled was incorrect and caused the conviction and sentence to be reversed. However, the Illinois Supreme Court said that the instruction given by the judge was correct and that the jury convicted Downs with a proper understanding of reasonable doubt.1003058327_6ea00879e2

No Jury Instruction for Reasonable Doubt in Illinois

In this case, the jury sent a note to the court asking whether its definition of reasonable doubt was 80 percent, 70 percent, or 60 percent. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that the U.S. Constitution does not require or prohibit a definition of reasonable doubt, and in Illinois, trial courts (and attorneys for the prosecution or the defense) are not allowed to provide jury instructions that define reasonable doubt. This is because “reasonable doubt” is difficult to define, and trial judges usually end up substituting other phrases that are equally difficult to understand. Therefore, the Illinois Supreme Court has ruled in the past that “reasonable doubt’ should speak for itself without any attempt at a definition from the trial court.

When Downs appealed his conviction and sentence, he argued that the trial court’s instruction to the jury that it was their duty to define reasonable doubt in this case was erroneous because it violated the prohibition on instructions about reasonable doubt. According to the appellate court, the only acceptable answer would have been to tell the jury that reasonable doubt is not defined as a percentage, and to just inform them that reasonable doubt is the highest standard of proof in law, and that they had received all of the instructions needed to answer its question.  However, the Illinois Supreme Court disagreed, saying that in decisions going back a hundred years, it has consistently held that the term “reasonable doubt” doesn’t need to be defined because the words themselves are enough to convey its meaning.

First-degree murder

The shooting occurred during a period in the 1990s when Aurora experienced a long period of street gang violence. It was at this time that Downs and an accomplice, Elias Diaz, reportedly targeted Nico’s uncle for belonging to a rival gang. Elias Diaz allegedly planned the shooting and drove the getaway card. He was convicted and received a 60-year term.

Here, Elias Diaz did not actually carry out the killing. However, there was testimony during the trial that he drove two men to Nico’s house and ordered Downs to shoot a man whom he believed was a rival gang member. Diaz thought that the rival gang member at one time occupied the bedroom in which Nico slept and ordered the shooting to occur there.

In Illinois, first degree murder is defined as performing an act that causes someone to die with the intent to kill that individual or someone else, and with the knowledge that the act will probably cause death or great bodily harm to that individual or someone else. For first-degree murder, it is not necessary that you are the one to actually carry out the act of killing. Ordering someone to commit the act is enough to satisfy the definition.

Additionally, a person will still be guilty of first-degree murder even if the person who dies was not the intended target of the intent to kill. Here, the actual target was Nico’s uncle, and not Nico. However, the Illinois statute explicitly allows the intent to be transferred, and that even if someone else was killed other than the intended victim, it would still be considered first-degree murder.

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Police were able to tie a suspect to a quadruple homicide that took place in the nation’s capital in mid-May after finding DNA on pizza crust left in the home. The suspect’s DNA was already in the criminal database as a result of past crimes.

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Legal Requirements to Obtaining Chicago DNA Sample

DNA is a powerful forensic tool that can link a potential suspect to a crime. Lack of a DNA match can also be used to disprove that the suspect played any part in the crime. Blood, hair, semen, skin scrapings, saliva – all are potential sources of DNA.

If police uncover DNA evidence at a crime scene, in order to get a DNA sample to compare to the evidence, the suspect must either consent to give a sample, or the police must obtain a search warrant. If the police have other evidence to tie the suspect to the crime, such as fingerprints, video surveillance footage or the victim’s identification, getting the search warrant usually isn’t that difficult.

But in some cases, DNA is the only evidence that could place the defendant at the scene of the crime, and a police officer’s hunch is generally insufficient to persuade a judge to grant a search warrant. As the Washington, D.C., case illustrates, there are other ways police can obtain a suspect’s DNA without a search warrant. Think of the scenarios that you see played out on television crime procedurals – police officers taking a cigarette butt the suspect smokes during the interrogation, the soda pop can the suspect drank from, even removing a tissue the suspect used from the trash can – all of these may be enough to give police DNA evidence that would link the suspect to the crime. And this all is obtained without the defendant’s consent or a search warrant.

The Washington, D.C. case shows how the process may sometimes work in reverse. The police may have a DNA sample obtained from the crime scene, but no known suspect. In these cases the police run the DNA sample through the Illinois DNA database, hoping for a match. The database is the result of Illinois’ DNA Database Law requires any defendant who is either convicted or received a disposition of court supervision for, completing or attempting to complete a qualified offense to submit a DNA sample to the state’s DNA database. Qualifying offenses include conviction of any felony or crime that requires registration as a sex offender.

The DNA Database Law was expanded in 2012 to require that any suspect arrested and indicted for first-degree murder, home invasion, predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, aggravated criminal sexual assault or criminal sexual assault submit a DNA sample within 14 days of the indictment for inclusion in the database. That means a suspect may ultimately be acquitted, or the charges dismissed before trial, but his DNA has already been taken and placed in the state database.

In cases where a link is made in reverse – DNA evidence helps locate a suspect the police otherwise had no way of finding – the match is usually sufficient to persuade a judge to grant a full search and arrest warrant, which may lead the police to uncover other evidence of a crime.

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The Illinois House of Representatives passed a bill that would decriminalize possession of marijuana. Passage comes on the heels of a recent announcement made by Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez that her office will no longer prosecute minor pot cases. The bill must pass the Senate before being transmitted to the governor’s desk for signature.

Low-level Possession of Marijuana Crimes in Illinois

If passed by the Senate and ultimately signed in to law by Governor Rauner, the law would not only decriminalize possession of low-levels of marijuana, but would create consistency between state law and public ordinances.

Current Illinois law classifies possession of between 2.5 and 30 grams of marijuana as a Class A, B or C misdemeanor, depending on the amount the defendant possessed at the time of arrest. A second or higher arrest for possession being is upgraded to a Class 4 felony. Penalties for conviction range from 30 up to one year in jail and fines ranging from $1,500 to $2,500.

Under the proposed law, Chicago residents could legally possess up to 25 grams of marijuana, and the penalty for being caught in possession would be no worse than a traffic ticket – no jail time, and a maximum $125 fine.

The law is addressed at growing recognition that prosecution for low-level misdemeanor cases is a waste of the court’s already stretched and limited resources and serves no real purpose, as the majority of offenders are non-violent, recreational users who pose no threat to the public. But it will also make penalties for misdemeanor possession crimes uniform across the state.

Under the present system, a person in any city or county across the state can be arrested for possession of 5 grams of marijuana. But whether or not that person is prosecuted depends on where the arrest was made.

If the arrest is made in Chicago, as of now there will be no prosecution for misdemeanor possession. According to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, all such cases will be dismissed. Those arrested and charged with a Class 4 felony in Cook County will be diverted to an alternative program that seeks to rehabilitate chronic drug abusers, rather than throw them in prison where they will receive little to no treatment for their addiction.

The same person arrested in another city, however, for possession of 5 grams of marijuana could be placed in jail for up to 30 days and face a fine of $1,500. And if he is a repeat offender, whereas the city of Chicago would offer him treatment in an effort to break the cycle of addiction, another city could place him in jail for up to a year, only to have him be released and fall right back into the cycle.

In order to be effective laws must be applied uniformly. And basic fairness requires that a person should not be subject to criminal punishment for engaging in behavior in one city that is perfectly legal in the next. Continue reading

The 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination is one of the most well-known rights in criminal defense, right up there with the right against unlawful search and seizure and the requirement that police read suspects the Miranda warnings. Yet a criminal suspect doesn’t always have “the right to remain silent”, and not have that silence used against him in court.

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Salinas v. Texas Requires Affirmative Claim of Right to Remain Silent

In Salinas v. Texas, the defendant was questioned in regard to a murder investigation. The defendant was not under police custody, thus he had not yet been read his Miranda warnings, which inform criminal suspects that they have the right to remain silent, and that any statements given can and will be used against them in court. The defendant voluntarily answered the officer’s questions in regard to the murder, until the officer asked whether a ballistics test would confirm that shells found at the crime scene matched the defendant’s shotgun. At this line of questioning the defendant simply stopped talking.

At trial the prosecution introduced the defendant’s silence as proof of guilt. Because the defendant had willingly spoken with police, the prosecution argued that the defendant’s refusal to answer that specific question was indicative of guilt. The defendant argued that using his silence as evidence of guilt violated his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. The trial court disagreed, and defendant was convicted. His appeals took the case to the United States Supreme Court.

The court affirmed the defendant’s conviction, ruling that the right to remain silent is an affirmative right. This means that in order for the right to apply – and for evidence of silence to not be used against the suspect in court – the defendant must say, “I am invoking my right to remain silent”, or similar words to that effect. Refusing to answer police questions is insufficient to invoke the right.

There are only two instances where the defendant’s failure to speak cannot be used against him. The first is where he is in police custody and has not been read his Miranda rights. The court said that such a circumstance is so coercive that the defendant need not affirmatively invoke the privilege because his statements cannot be considered voluntary.

The second is during trial, where the defendant has an “absolute right” not to take the stand, for whatever reason. The jury is not permitted to take the defendant’s failure to testify on his own behalf as evidence of guilt, nor can the prosecution suggest that the defendant’s failure to take the stand is proof of guilt.

The Supreme Court refused to accept the defendant’s argument that invocation of the 5th amendment right to remain silent should be assumed when a suspect refuses to answer police questions that would imply guilt. The court stated that while this may be the most probable reason for the person’s silence, it is not necessarily the only reason – his reason for not answering could be to protect somebody, to come up with a lie, or any other number of reasons. The purpose of the right to remain silent, the court stated, is not to protect all of the defendant’s statements, but only those that would tend to incriminate himself. Is it the defendant’s burden, the court stated, to invoke the privilege, and not for the prosecution to figure out the reason for the silence.

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Legislation introduced by Illinois State Senator Michael Hastings (D-Tinley Park) would extend the statute of limitations for armed robbery, home invasion, kidnapping or aggravated kidnapping if these crimes were committed during the course of a sex crime.4976873174_f2255ed1d1

Illinois Statute of Limitations

Statutes of limitation are imposed to encourage people to come forward and report crimes close to the time they allegedly occurred. Waiting years to report a crime has serious ramifications, as illustrated by the recent spate of accusations against comedian and television star Bill Cosby – any physical evidence that may have existed at the time to corroborate (or not corroborate, depending on the circumstances) is long gone, turning the case into nothing more than spew of he said/she said accusations that do nothing to promote justice, and everything to destroy the reputation of the accused and the accuser (depending on whose side of the story is believed).

Statutes of limitation place time limits on how long the prosecution to file charges. The statute of limitations begins to run on the date the crime was allegedly committed. If the prosecutor fails to file charges against the accused before the statute of limitation expires, charges can never be brought, even if the very next day the accused admits to having committed the crime.

Statutes of limitation vary depending on the crime. In Illinois, the statute of limitation for sexual assault is 10 years, provided the victim reported the crime to the police within three years of when it happened. The statute of limitations for armed robbery, home invasion, aggravated kidnapping and kidnapping are three years.

But if passed the new law, which the Senate unanimously approved last week, would extend the statute of limitations for these crimes to 10 years, if they were committed during the course of a criminal sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual assault or aggravated criminal sexual abuse. The goal is for consistency in the prosecution of sexual assault crimes. Under current law, the possibility exists for a person to break into a home, sexually assault the victim, and later be arrested and convicted of sexual assault but not home invasion, based solely on when the attacker was arrested.

But the legislation raises questions about whether, in order to have the extended statute of limitations apply, the victim must report the armed robbery, home invasion or kidnapping within three years, or whether she must only report the sexual assault, and can tack on the additional crime later. Under the first scenario, she would report to the police within three years of the alleged rape that she was attacked during a home invasion, thus granting the 10 year statute of limitations for both crimes.

Under the latter scenario, the victim reports the rape within three years. Four years after the rape, she reports to police that the rape occurred during the course of a kidnapping which she did not mention earlier, because she was taken from a known drug dealer’s house, and she did not want it to get back to her family or employer that she had a drug problem. Will the fact that she reported the rape within three years allow the additional charge of kidnapping to be brought against her accuser, even though the three year statute of limitations that normally applies to kidnapping has expired, or must she have reported them both within the three year statute of limitation period? This is hopefully a question that the state House will take up during their deliberations as to whether or not to pass the law.

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A criminal defense attorney’s goal is to obtain the best possible outcome for his client. Ideally, this would be a dismissal of all charges prior to trial or, barring that, an acquittal. But in some cases, the best course of action is to enter into a plea agreement.

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Reasons for Accepting Chicago Plea Bargain

There are many reasons to accept a plea agreement offered by a prosecutor. And it is not only those defendants who are guilty of committing the charged crime that accept a plea; defendants who are completely innocent often accept plea deals as well. Here are some of the common reasons a defendant may accept a plea agreement.

Promise of reduced sentence. Prosecutors often offer a reduced sentence if the defendant will plead guilty. Most crimes have a range of sentencing possibilities, so a prosecution may offer the lower end of that range in exchange for a guilty plea, as opposed to seeking the maximum sentence if the defendant is convicted at trial. In cases where the penalty is lifetime imprisonment, such as a murder charge, the sentence reduction may be to allow for the possibility of parole.

Conviction of a lesser charge. Sometimes a plea agreement includes reducing the charges that were filed – from aggravated kidnapping to kidnapping, for example. Pleading guilty to a lesser charge results in reduced jail time and may decrease potentially negative consequences, for example the requirement to register as a sex offender following conviction for certain sex crimes.

Guaranteed outcome versus uncertainty of trial. Although it is possible for a judge not to agree to the prosecutor’s recommendation regarding sentencing in a plea agreement, the majority of the time the sentence promised in exchange for a plea is what is handed down. Accepting a plea agreement gives you a guaranteed outcome, as to both the crime you will be convicted of and the sentence. Going to trial offers no guarantees, either to whether the jury will convict or acquit or to the sentence the judge will order upon conviction.

Want the whole thing to go away. Contrary to what is portrayed on popular television crime procedurals, where the time between the commission of the crime and the jury’s verdict is a matter of weeks, most criminal cases are not over that quickly. Trials can be delayed or postponed due to witness unavailability, attorney and court schedules, or the need to acquire more evidence. Sometimes it can take months from the time the defendant is first arrested to when the prosecution files charges. Rather than live under the specter or a criminal trial looming at some point in the future, many defendants will agree to enter a plea just to put an end to it, serve their sentence and get on with their lives.

Consequences of Pleading Guilty

Even though accepting a plea agreement is sometimes the best option, it doesn’t meant that it is without consequences. Whenever you accept the prosecution’s plea agreement, you must carefully weigh the pros and cons. A plea agreement requires that you plead guilty, which can have long-lasting consequences. It may impact where you live, your employment, perhaps even future custody or rights to your children. A decision to accept or not accept a plea agreement should not be made until you and your defense attorney have thoroughly discussed your case.

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A Cook County man’s conviction for first-degree murder was overturned, and a new hearing ordered, after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that his defense attorney provided ineffective counsel for failure to object to testimony regarding the defendant’s confession.

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Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Watch any crime procedural on television or in the movies and you’ll no doubt witness repeated cries of, “Your honor, I object!” from attorneys on both sides. While they add dramatic flair to the movies, objections serve an extremely important part of criminal trials. Just like in a basketball game, where the referees call fouls when players violate the rules, objections serve as the attorney’s way of ensuring that the rules of criminal procedure are followed.

In basketball, if the ref fails to call a foul, there’s a lot of grumbling by players, coaches and fans, and maybe the team loses the game over a couple of lousy calls. But in a criminal trial, the defense attorney’s failure to object can result in conviction and imprisonment.

This is what happened to the defendant in People v. Simpson. The defendant was convicted of first-degree murder in the beating death of a man. The conviction was based in large part on videotaped statements of a third party, who told police that he was near the murder scene and that the defendant confessed to committing the crime. At trial, the witness said he remembered talking to the police about the defendant’s statements, but he could not remember what he told them. In fact, when the prosecution would ask him to confirm specific statements he made to the police, the witness could not confirm that he had made them.

Statements made by a witness out of court, which are inconsistent with his current testimony and which were not subject to cross-examination when made, are generally inadmissible at trial as hearsay. That is because attorneys on both sides have the right to cross-examine a witness, and a statement made out of court is not subject to cross-examination. But prior inconsistent statements are admissible if:

  1. The statement is inconsistent with testimony at trial;
  2. The witness is subject to cross-examination, and;
  3. The statement describes an event the witness had personal knowledge about.

In this case, the witness’s statements did not describe an event he had personal knowledge of, and the Illinois Supreme Court made clear that the “personal knowledge” requirement refers to the crime itself, and not personal knowledge of the defendant’s statements, which is what the prosecution argued.

Yet despite the fact that the witness’s testimony was clearly inadmissible under the prior inconsistent statement rule, the defendant’s attorney failed to object. It is the duty of the defense attorney to object to the admission of evidence – the judge makes no objections, he simply rules on them. Failure to object means the evidence is admitted. In this case, the witness’s testimony was instrumental in the defendant’s conviction.

The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel. In order to prove this, the defendant must prove on appeal that the attorney’s representation “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.”

In overturning the defendant’s conviction, the court noted that it could determine no strategic reason for the defense attorney to have wanted the statements admitted. The court also noted that while other testimony tended to show the defendant’s guilt, the testimony in question was a supposed confession, which generally carries more weight with jurors than other testimony (particularly in this case, where one of the prosecution witnesses had failed to identify the defendant at trial). Without its admission, the court stated that there was a reasonable probability that the jury would have acquitted the defendant. As a result, the conviction was overturned and defendant was granted a new trial.

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A Wheaton man was arrested in late January and charged with four counts of possession of child pornography. A forensic examination of the defendant’s home computer, which was seized following the issuance of a search warrant, uncovered evidence of child pornography that had been downloaded to, and distributed from, the computer.

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Defense of DuPage County Possession of Child Pornography

In Illinois, a defendant is guilty of possession of child pornography if he knowingly possesses any visual depiction of a child engaged in a sexual act. Possession of child pornography is a specific intent crime. If the defendant did not intend to have the pornography in his possession – if it was obtained without his knowledge – then he cannot be found guilty, as “knowingly” is a specific element of the crime.

In defending against a possession of child pornography case, it is extremely important to examine all of the facts to determine if any of the evidence raises the possibility that the defendant did not knowingly possess the photographs or other visual depictions. A forensic examination of the defendant’s computer by computer expert, independent of the police and prosecutor’s examination(s), would need to be conducted to help answer the following questions. A “yes” answer for any of them would raise reasonable doubt as to whether the defendant knowingly came into possession of child pornography:

  • Did a third-party have access to the defendant’s computer?
  • Were the pornographic images purposely downloaded, or were they unknowingly installed as part of an adware or malware attack?
  • Were the images installed via an e-mail attachment that was opened?
  • Were the images downloaded after clicking on a link in an e-mail?
  • Were the images obtained from a site that a reasonable person would have known had child pornography?

The police investigation also found that the images on the defendant’s computer were distributed. A person is guilty of distribution if he knowingly distributes, or offers to distribute, any visual depiction of a child engaged in any sexual act. Again, the defendant must have had knowledge that he was distributing pornographic images. It could not have been done on accident or through no fault of his own.

A complete examination of the defendant’s computer by an independent computer expert would need to be done to help answer the following questions:

  • Did anybody have access to the defendant’s computer at the time the photos were distributed?
  • Does anybody else know the defendant’s login and password for his computer and/or e-mail account?
  • Was the defendant’s e-mail system hacked?
  • Did the defendant’s computer contain any spam, malware, adware, or other virus laden program that sent the e-mails without his knowledge?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it would raise reasonable doubt that the defendant had the requisite knowledge to satisfy that specific element of the crime. The Law Offices of David L. Freidberg, P.C., has access to a team of independent computer experts who will thoroughly examine the defendant’s computer, as well as review the police and prosecution experts’ report, to determine if any evidence supports the theory that the defendant had no knowledge that the pornographic images were downloaded to, or distributed by, his computer.

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An Evanston man was arrested and charged with burglary for allegedly breaking into three Elgin gas stations last month and stealing cash and Illinois state lottery tickets.

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Illinois Burglary Requires Intent to Steal

Under Illinois law a person commits the crime of burglary if:

  • He knowingly enters a building;
  • The entry is without permission, and;
  • His entry is with the intent to steal or commit a felony.

Burglary is a specific intent crime, which means the prosecution must prove that the defendant knowingly entered the premises without permission, and that he intended to steal once he was inside. This definition raises an interesting point about burglary that many people do not realize – it is possible to illegally enter a building without permission, steal something, and yet not be charged with burglary. How? It all depends on when the intent to steal was formed.

Here is an example. It’s freezing on the streets of Chicago, and a homeless man is looking for a warm place to spend the night. He breaks the window of a doctor’s office so he can sleep on the couches in reception. That is his only purpose in entering the office – to get a good night’s sleep in a warm place. At this point, he has fulfilled the first two elements of the burglary charge.

When he awakes in the morning, he notices an open drawer. Upon further inspection, he sees an envelope containing petty cash. He decides to take it, along with some drugs that were unlocked in a cabinet. Although he intended to steal from the doctor’s office when he took the money and the drugs, the man did not commit burglary. That is because his intent to steal was not present the moment he illegally entered the office, but was formed later. The intent to steal must be present when the person illegally enters a building.

Now this does not mean the man cannot be charged with a crime. He could be charged with trespass and theft, but not burglary. The distinction is significant, because burglary is a felony, whereas depending on the value of the items stolen, the theft may only be a misdemeanor, which means a much shorter prison sentence, if convicted.

Chicago Burglary Defense

In any case of burglary, the first line of defense would be to argue that it was not the defendant who broke into the gas stations. The article states that police linked him to the crimes through stolen lottery tickets. Assuming that they do not have images of him on video surveillance, then the only evidence linking him to the crime is the stolen lottery tickets. Possession of the lottery tickets in and of itself is not proof that he was the one who illegally entered the gas stations and stole the tickets. He may have received them from a friend after the fact, or he could have found them all discarded in a dumpster after the real thief tried to dump them. Regardless, even if he knew, or should have known, they were stolen, this does not make him guilty of burglary.

The second line of defense, as discussed above, would be to prove that the defendant did not have the intent to steal when he entered the premises. If it can be proven that he entered for any non-criminal purpose, and decided to steal only later, as discussed above he could not be charged with burglary.

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A Chicago man was arrested last week and charged with attempted first-degree murder after allegedly firing at two Chicago police officers as they were arresting him for shoplifting. The defendant allegedly fired once, though nobody was injured; he continued to fire not realizing the clip had fallen out.

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Attempted First-Degree Murder of Police Officer

A defendant can be charged with attempt of a crime if, with the intent to commit a specific offense, he commits “any act that constitutes a substantial step toward the commission of that offense.” To be convicted of attempted first-degree murder, the prosecution would need to prove that the defendant intended to actually commit that crime.

First-degree murder requires an intent to “kill or do great bodily harm”, or acting in a manner that creates a “strong probability of death or great bodily harm”, to another. If the prosecution could prove that the defendant in this case fire the officer’s gun with the intent to either kill them or cause them great bodily harm, then he can be convicted of attempted first-degree murder.

Assuming it can be proven that the defendant did purposely grab and fire the officer’s weapon during the arrest, as opposed to the trigger accidentally being pulled in the struggle, it firing due to a malfunction, or the officer actually being the one to fire it, then the prosecution would have the burden of proving intent to kill or harm. Defending against attempted first-degree murder would require arguing for a lesser crime, such as assault. This defense requires convincing the jury that the defendant fired the weapon not with the intent to kill the officers or cause them harm, but instead to scare them, most likely so he could continue to try and make his escape.

Eyewitness testimony as to the direction the weapon was fired during the arrest could help support this defense. If the gun was aimed away from the officer’s, it would tend to show that the defendant did not intend to cause death or great bodily harm, but rather to scare them. A gun aimed away from the officer’s would also disprove the idea that he should have known his actions could result in death or bodily harm (the other elements required to prove first-degree murder), because nobody would expect a gun fired away from a person would cause him harm.

An interesting aspect of this case are in-court statements made by the defendant’s attorney that the defendant is a pastor and was recently honorably discharged from the Army. These actions don’t fit with the idea of a pastor and respected Army veteran. This raises the possibility of several state of mind defenses – perhaps the defendant was suffering from PTSD from his time spent in the Army. It would be worthwhile to have the defendant submit to a psychological evaluation by an independent third-party to determine his mental state, which could possibly negate him having the proper state of mind, or could be used in negotiations with the prosecution to reduce charges.

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