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Argument Over Respect Ends in Homicide

26-year-old Marco Robertson was charged with second degree murder after he allegedly stabbed his stepfather multiple times following a family quarrel. Mr. Robertson stayed about three days a week at a home on West 54th Street where his mother and stepfather, 44-year-old James Rice, also resided. The two men argued because Mr. Rice insisted that Mr. Robertson should announce his presence and not simply walk into the house. According to a police report, Mr. Rice berated Mr. Robertson for several minutes before striking him. Mr. Robertson said, “He punched me [and] I hit him back.” Mr. Robertson then grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed Mr. Rice seven times in his back and temple. Police arrested Mr. Robertson after taking his statement and observing a large amount of blood on the kitchen floor.

Mr. Robertson claimed that he stopped fighting when Mr. Rice stopped fighting back.

Discovery in Criminal Cases

Cook County Judge Laura Sullivan set Mr. Robertson’s bail at $350,000, so she was apparently unimpressed by his self-defense argument. However, the argument may eventually have merit, depending on the outcome of discovery.

Rule 412 is the primary discovery rule in Illinois criminal cases. It requires the prosecutor to turn over:

  • A list of prosecution witnesses and a summary of their testimony,
  • Any statements made by the defendant or a codefendant,
  • A partial grand jury transcript,
  • Any prior convictions to be used as impeachment,
  • “Tangible objects” belonging to the defendant which the state may use at trial, and
  • Any expert reports.

This list is quite limited and comes with strings attached. For example, the state must only release that portion of the grand jury transcript related to the testimony of the accused and trial witnesses.

The best way to expand discovery is to file a Section H motion. This provision states that the court “may require disclosure to defense counsel of relevant material and information not covered by this rule,” if the request is “reasonable” and the information sought is “material.”

In the above case, I would want to know about the physical discrepancy between the defendant and the victim. It is already apparent that Mr. Rice had a rather hot temper. If he was a physically large man, and if Mr. Robertson were smaller, that contrast would give credence to Mr. Robertson’s belief that he needed a weapon to defend himself. Likewise, if Mr. Rice had any violent criminal history or if he kept a gun in the house, the jury might see Mr. Robertson’s use of a knife as reasonable.

Legal Defenses to Murder

There is also an issue as to who owned the house, in practical terms. If Mr. Robertson lived there about six months out of the year, he presumably had a key and a bedroom, so he arguably had no duty to retreat under Illinois law.

Self-defense cases sometimes raise intent issues, as well, because even if the defendant cannot establish all the legal elements of the defense, he may have lacked the specific intent necessary to commit the crime, which is to kill or seriously injure the victim. As strange as it may sound, a jury might well conclude that, in the heat of the moment, Mr. Robertson lacked specific intent, even though he stabbed Mr. Robertson repeatedly with a steak knife.

Count on Experienced Attorneys

With hard work and an understanding of the law, every case has the potential to end with a positive result. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal law attorney in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson.

(image courtesy of Eric Parks)

Rideshare Driver Fatally Stabbed Outside Chicago

A 16-year-old girl from the Norwood Park area of Lincolnwood quietly slipped into the backseat of an Uber car and then stabbed the driver to death a few blocks later.

During a pretrial hearing, Cook County prosecutors said they would try Eliza Wasni as an adult, citing the unprovoked and heinous nature of the crime. According to investigators, Ms. Wasani stole a machete and knife from an area department store over the recent Memorial Day weekend, and then hailed an Uber from her smartphone. 34-year-old Grant Nelson of Wilmette picked up the girl. About two minutes later, Ms. Wasani allegedly started hacking at the driver from the back seat. Suffering from multiple stab wounds, Mr. Nelson bolted from the car and banged on the door of a condominium building, yelling “help me, God help me, please, I'm gonna die,” according to a witness. Minutes thereafter, emergency responders rushed Mr. Nelson to a nearby hospital, where he later died. Police found Ms. Wasani, who had apparently crashed while trying to escape in the Uber vehicle, partially disrobed and huddling near an air conditioner.

After the girl ignored orders to put down the knife, officers tased her and took her into custody.

Mens Rea (Unlawful Mental State) in Murder Cases

When faced with random and seemingly meaningless crimes like the one described above, many people, perhaps rightly so, look for explanations. But in a court of law, jurors deal with facts at hand, and from a strictly biological standpoint, in the case mentioned above, the young lady’s brain may not be fully developed for another 20 or 30 years.

Mental immaturity has little or nothing to do with legal sanity, because for an insanity defense to apply, the person must not know the difference between right and wrong. Put another way, insanity is a moral or psychological defense. However, mental immaturity has a lot to do with criminal intent, especially in attempted murder and other specific intent crimes.

“Specific intent” means that the actor must intend both the conduct, which is hurting someone in this case, and the result, which is seriously injuring or killing that someone.

Of particular interest is the common inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. In extreme situations, we call these people schizophrenic. But there are also everyday situations that a jury can easily understand. Many people wake from realistic dreams and must convince themselves that what they just experienced was fantasy instead of reality. Similarly, many people read “news” stories on highly-opinionated websites or from questionable sources, and believe that these stories are both objective and factual.

If this young woman understood that she was hitting the driver but did not fully comprehend the consequences of her actions, she arguably lacked the intent to murder and is therefore not guilty as a matter of law. Insanity may well be a defense raised in this case, as well, once her attorneys learn more about the young woman’s emotional wellness, or lack thereof.

Contact Experienced Attorneys

In criminal cases, prosecutors must establish the requisite mental state beyond a reasonable doubt. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal law attorney in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson.

(image courtesy of Andrew Peloso)

Six Charged After Fox Valley Drug Raid

Following an eight-month, multi-agency investigation that yielded little evidence, Kane County prosecutors charged six men with 32 felony offenses.

Most of the charges involve the unlawful possession of a firearm and delivery of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a park, school, or other prohibited place. Five of the six men are in custody and are being held in jail until they post tens of thousands of dollars in bail. Much of the investigation involved undercover work in and around Montgomery, Aurora, and North Aurora; authorities also credited several confidential informants.

During the investigation, police seized roughly 75 grams of cocaine or heroin and a .270 hunting rifle.

Drug Crimes in Chicago

The “war on drugs” is not over, and as far as winning and losing is concerned, the only measuring stick is the number and severity of drug arrests. That explains why a few men with few dozen bottlecaps’ worth of a controlled substance and a hunting rifle that could probably be found in half of Cook County homes are being charged with some of the most serious drug offense under the law.

There is another dynamic at play, as well. After almost a year, authorities had undoubtedly invested considerable resources into this investigation. Like any other investor, they want a good return, and they will do whatever they can to maximize the payoff.

Third Party Tips

All criminal prosecutions begin when an arresting officer personally observes illegal activity or when the arresting officer receives a tip. Drug prosecutions almost always involve the latter, due to the surreptitious nature of most controlled substances crimes. Judges must evaluate these tips for reliability, considering all relevant factors, including:

  • Time: Drug transaction tips have a very short shelf life, as information about who, what, and where quickly becomes stale.
  • Specificity: Tips like “A man is selling drugs in Aurora” are almost useless, and tips like “A black man is selling drugs at XYZ address” probably constitute probable cause.
  • Source: Police departments pay substantial sums to many civilian tipsters, and while that does not necessarily mean the tips are unreliable, many people will do practically anything for money.

The prosecutor cannot work backwards and argue that since officers found drugs, the questionable tip must have been reliable. A tip is judged on its face at the time the officer receives it.

Negotiating with Prosecutors

Even if the evidence seems overwhelming, there is often room for negotiation, and the 1,000-foot rule is a good example of this procedure. 1,000 feet is about three football fields, so in many areas, almost any designated point is less than 1,000 feet away from at least one park, school, church, or other prohibited place. Furthermore, since most drug transactions occur late at night, there are probably no children or other people in the vicinity that the law is designed to protect.

While the defendant still technically broke the law, many prosecutors are willing to make sentencing accommodations in these cases to avoid a potentially embarrassing trial.

Rely on Experienced Attorneys

Aggressive prosecutors often press charges that the evidence does not really support. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal law attorney in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson.

(image courtesy of Ran Berkovich)