Latest Posts

Marijuana Possession v. Marijuana Trafficking in Illinois

There is a growing undercurrent in Illinois law that possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use is not a major crime. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that marijuana arrests serve no useful purpose and simply soak up law enforcement resources. The other side of this equation is that the fines that courts collect from marijuana arrests, and the probation cases these arrests engender, help keep many criminal justice systems financially afloat.

However, everyone can agree that marijuana trafficking is bad for society and should be illegal. Law enforcement officials argue that the profits from such endeavors often go to fund other illicit enterprises for small and large crime organizations worldwide, such as sex trafficking and illegal arms sales. Furthermore, marijuana “dealers” still have a social stigma that marijuana “users” have largely shed, as long as they smoke their joints in private.

With all the recent changes in this area, it is easy to lose track of what is legal and what is illegal. It is also difficult to draw the line between simple possession and drug trafficking.

Marijuana Laws in Illinois

In 1907, California became the first state to label marijuana as a “poison.” Many other states soon followed suit, and the federal government eventually criminalized marijuana as well. These laws created what scientists call inertia. In plain English, inertia means that things tend to stay the same unless there is a radical new development. We may be witnessing such radical change in Chicago and the throughout the United States right at this time.

For the foreseeable future, marijuana laws will probably not undergo further radical change in Illinois. 720 ILCS 550/4 essentially breaks down punishment for possession according to the amount of marijuana.

  • Civil Violation: If a person has less than 10 grams of marijuana (there are about three joints in a gram), the maximum punishment is a $200 fine. There may be some other punishments as well, such as an awareness class or perhaps community service. But there is no possible jail time or probation.
  • Misdemeanor: Possession of between 10 and 30 grams is a Class B misdemeanor (up to six months in jail and a $1,500 fine). Said possession must also be a first offense. Possession between 30-100 grams is a Class A misdemeanor (up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
  • Felony: After that point, punishments escalate quickly. Subsequent violation of the 30-100 gram law is a felony, as is first-time possession of more than 100 grams. Depending on the amount, violators could face between one and 15 years in prison along with a $25,000 fine.

Illinois cultivation laws work much the same way. Five plants or fewer is a misdemeanor; more than five plants is a felony. Delivery and trafficking statutes treat the offender far more harshly. Less than 10 grams is a misdemeanor; more than 10 grams is a felony. Persons convicted of trafficking can face a minimum sentence of 12 to 30 years in the Illinois State Penetentiary and a $200,000 or more fine. All these possession and trafficking laws may trigger Illinois’ rather strict civil forfeiture measures that allow law enforcement to seize and sell boats, plane, automobiles, and even homes.

How do Prosecutors Distinguish Between Trafficking and Possession?

The amount of contraband is one distinction. The more pot the person has, the more likely it is that the person planned to sell some or all of it.

Sometimes, prosecutors also look at any ancillary items that the police seize in Chicago or elsewhere. Such items include:

  • Firearms,
  • Baggies,
  • Ties,
  • Scales, and
  • Money.

It is not always easy for prosecutors to connect ancillary items with the drugs they seize, especially if they are located in two different areas of a dwelling and multiple people live there. Furthermore, if the defendant also had drug paraphernalia, such a seizure indicates personal use as opposed to drug trafficking use.

In addition to the penalties listed above, enhancements apply if the defendant was caught near a school or while attempting to cross state lines.

Contact Aggressive Attorneys

If you have been charged with any marijuana crime, you need assertive representation. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson.

(image courtesy of Shane Rounce)

Chicago Business-Owner Shoots Two During Botched Robbery

Details are still sketchy regarding a South Side defense of property shooting that seriously wounded two people.

Apparently, two men in their 20s entered a store on West 75th Street. They brandished weapons and made threats. The business-owner then fired several shots, hitting one attacker in the abdomen and the other one in the arm. After fleeing the scene, both would-be armed robbers showed up a short time later at a nearby hospital. They are both expected to survive.

A Brief Overview of Illinois Self-Defense Laws

When it comes to carrying a licensed handgun outside your home or business, Illinois has one of the most restrictive laws in the country. Yet when it comes to using a licensed weapon inside your home or business, Illinois law is quite liberal. In fact, the Prairie State effectively has a “stand your ground” law. 720 ILCS 5/7 does not contain a duty to retreat before using force or deadly force.

In 2004, Illinois lawmakers changed this provision, making self-defense an affirmative defense. It applies if actors used justifiable force to protect:

  • Their homes,
  • Their property, or/li>
  • Themselves or other people./li>

Force is justifiable if it is proportional to the threat. Additionally, that threat must be reasonable. Finally, the threat must be imminent.

Things get a little complicated here. Assume that the actor thinks she sees the outline of a weapon in in an attacker’s pants, but she was mistaken about the gun. Nevertheless, she shoots him. Or, assume that the attacker said something like, “Just give me your money and I will not hurt you.” In that first set of facts, a prosecutor could argue that the actor’s belief was not reasonable. In the second set of facts, a prosecutor could argue that there was no imminent threat of serious bodily harm.

These arguments would probably fail in criminal court. However, they may work in a separate civil proceeding. More on that below.

There is also the matter of regular force and deadly force. Regular force, which is basically simple battery, is acceptable in almost any circumstance. In Chicago, a fist will not stop an armed attacker, in most cases. So, the deadly force inquiry becomes relevant. Illinois law allows this level of force if the actor:

  • Believes it is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily harm, or/li>
  • Is preventing a forcible felony./li>

Under Illinois law, forcible felonies are any felonies which involve force or the threat of force. That list includes rapes, burglaries, robberies, murder, aggravated assaults, and arsons.

In the above story, the South Side business-owner was clearly trying to prevent a forcible felony (armed robbery). Arguably, he was also protecting himself against deadly force. So, the affirmative defense clearly seems applicable.

Illinois Self-Defense and Civil Liability

The South Side business-owner, as well as our hypothetical mugging victim, might have problems in civil court. There, the burden of proof is a lot lower. The plaintiff, who would be the attacker or the attacker’s survivor, must only establish liability by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).

But hold on a minute. The aforementioned 2004 amendments also included a clause that gives self-defense actors immunity in similar civil proceedings. The immunity does not apply if the criminal court did not uphold the affirmative defense. So, it is doubly important to have an experienced and aggressive attorney in the criminal case. Without such representation, a self-defense actor could be looking at both jail time and a substantial liability judgment.

Contact Hard-Hitting Attorneys

Illinois has generous, yet subtle, self-defense laws that an experienced attorney knows how to use. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson.

(image courtesy of Aaron Mello)

Wrongfully-Convicted Man Receives Multi-Million Dollar Judgment

A federal jury ordered the City of Chicago to pay over $17 million to a man who spent over two decades serving time for a crime he did not commit.

Much earlier, prosecutors charged Jacques Rivera with the 1988 shooting death of 16-year-old Felix Valentin. A jury convicted Mr. Rivera, largely on the testimony of lone eyewitness Oscar Lopez, who was only 12 at the time. More recently, Lopez has told several people several times that Rivera was not the shooter. According to defense attorneys, discredited Chicago Police Officer Reynaldo Guevara convinced the boy to change his story so it would fit investigator’s version of events. Moreover, they claimed, Guevara and his partners filed fraudulent reports. Guevara himself repeatedly asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination while he was on the stand.

In addition to compensatory damages, the jury ordered Guevara and his former partners to individually pay punitive damages.

Problems with Eyewitness Testimony in Chicago

In prosecutions of violent crimes, prosecutors often depend heavily on eyewitness testimony. In TV and movies, something emotionally compelling happens when a witness points to a person in the courtroom and says “that is the guy.” Many times, these moments are equally as powerful in real life trials. Eyewitness testimony may be emotionally compelling, but it is also quite unreliable.

Human memory is not a slow fade. Instead, people forget almost all new information within about 72 hours. To counter this issue, prosecutors usually preserve eyewitness testimony as quickly as possible. They take victim statements and work with composite sketches. These measures, along with the fact that the attack was emotionally traumatic and not something that a person is likely to forget, often overcome this objection.

That emotional trauma creates another problem. Such pressure makes memory worse instead of better. In one study, an inquisitor aggressively questioned test subjects for several hours. A day later, many subjects could not pick the questioner out of a lineup. The excessive duress affected their memory. Imagine what the stress is like if someone points a gun at you.

Cross-racial identification is often an issue in Chicago violent crimes. If a white victim sees 10 black men who are all about the same age, weight, and height, they will all look the same. Cross-racial identification issues have nothing to do with prejudice. It is simply biology and genetics.

Exploiting These Weaknesses in Illinois

Among criminal defense attorneys, opinions vary as to the best time to introduce arguments like these. Sometimes, it is best to talk about them during the voir dire jury examination. This segment of the trial is also known as the jury selection process. If an attorney opens the eyes of the jurors at this point, they may be more inclined to discredit eyewitness testimony that comes up later.

As a bonus, many Cook County judges give attorneys a little more leeway during voir dire examinations in murder and other serious cases. So, prosecutors may not be able to successfully object.

Other times, it is best to introduce evidence about cross-racial identification and other issues during the trial itself. There is a risk that the judge could halt such evidence on the grounds that it is irrelevant. Yet bringing in expert witnesses often confuses the jury, and a confused jury is less likely to go along with the prosecutor’s version of events.

Contact Assertive Attorneys

Very often, eyewitness testimony is both the greatest strength and greatest weakness in a prosecutor’s case. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson.

(image courtesy of Javier Villaraco)