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How Police May Use Social Media in Illinois Criminal Cases

Social media is a great way to stay in touch with friends and family and share what is going on in your life. However, there is a downside to social media use if you are a suspect in a crime or were arrested on criminal charges. There are ways to prevent negative social media use as you should be careful when you post certain information online. It is important to work with a knowledgeable Illinois criminal defense attorney to build your defense, and to follow his or her advice regarding your social media use.

How Police Use Social Media Information in Investigations

Illinois law enforcement has already made significant strides in developing strategies for reviewing social media profiles in solving crimes. Plus, police continue to find innovative, creative tactics for investigating suspects through social media platforms. Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others are effective for the law enforcement community because:

  • Officers have access to the same tools, features, and permissions as the average user. They can go to a suspect’s profile to see whom that person is communicating with, track locations, and determine the presence of criminal activity.
  • Police do not need a search warrant to investigate your profile, comments, images, video, “Likes,” “Shares,” and other content. Constitutional protections against illegal searches do not apply because this material is available to the public, for the world to see.
  • Authorities do not need special investigative equipment or administrative rights to access the information you post online. The technology is readily available to anyone with a computer, smartphone, or tablet – and an internet connection.

Social Media and Sentencing

Your social media profile can also haunt you if you have already been convicted, and it comes time for sentencing. Character evidence can be a factor when a judge is issuing an order for prison time, probation, and/or fines. If your Facebook profile reveals affiliation with drugs, guns, gangs or other illegal activity, you could receive a harsher sentence.

Protect Your Rights

To avoid making too much information public and available to law enforcement, a few tips may help prevent your online activities from being used against you:

  • Anything you share is fair game: Even when you have got the highest privacy settings, anything you post online is vulnerable to viewing. The internet is forever, and privacy settings will not protect you. Someone can always capture a screenshot of your content, even when you share it privately. They can then share it themselves.
  • Do not brag about criminal acts or illegal affiliations: Many offenders make the mistake of boasting about their crimes to boost their reputations. This information can be used against you in police investigations and during sentencing.
  • Never communicate about future criminal conduct: By sharing information about criminal activity, you are giving police a roadmap to your arrest.

Consult with an Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney About Social Media in Your Case

What you post on social media is almost always available to the general public. The police can use this information to locate you, arrest you, and convict you, and it could even impact your sentencing. However, if you are already facing charges based upon your online activities, you need a skilled lawyer to protect your rights.

For more information on your defense options, please contact Glasgow & Olsson in Schaumburg, IL. We represent clients in Cook, Lake, DuPage, McHenry, and Kane Counties in a wide range of criminal matters. You can reach our office to schedule a consultation by calling 847-577-8700 or completing our online form.

(image courtesy of Jay Wennington)

The Role of the Grand Jury in Criminal Proceedings

From Roger Stone to Jussie Smollett, there have been a number of recent high-profile court cases going before grand juries at the federal and state level. We have heard of grand jury indictments handed down and hours of grand jury testimony given. So, what exactly is a grand jury?

Many people have misconceptions about how grand juries work, often confusing them with the juries that would decide the verdict in a criminal case. There is an assumption that a grand jury indictment is the equivalent of a guilty verdict, but that is not the case. You should talk to a knowledgeable Illinois criminal defense attorney if you were charged based upon grand jury proceedings. The following are some common questions about grand juries.

How does a criminal case get to a grand jury? To arrest someone, the police must have a warrant supported by probable cause or a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. They may have grounds to charge someone based upon their own observations, a report from a witness, or other evidence of a crime.

When there is not sufficient probable cause or a reasonable suspicion to support an immediate arrest, a grand jury can be called to hear what evidence is available. A prosecutor presents the results of an investigation and witness testimony to members of the grand jury. These individuals review the evidence and, if they determine there is sufficient probable cause, they hand down an indictment.

What is the difference between a grand jury and a trial jury? A jury in a criminal trial determines whether a defendant is or is not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, after considering all the evidence presented by the prosecution. A grand jury determines whether there is enough evidence to file charges in the first place.

How does a prosecutor get an indictment from the grand jury? The level of proof for a grand jury indictment is much lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” requirement in a criminal trial. The prosecutor only needs to prove that probable cause exists, i.e., a logical belief that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed. This standard is extremely low. In fact, it is lower than the preponderance of the evidence burden of 51% in a civil case. So, while the scales of justice have to tip in favor of the plaintiff in a civil case, those same scales can remain balanced in the favor of the defendant and charges may still legally be filed.

What is next in the criminal process after a grand jury indictment? Once a grand jury issues an indictment, the suspect is arrested on the charges alleged by the prosecutor. From this point, the criminal process is the same as if police made an arrest at the scene of the crime. However, there is no need for a preliminary hearing because questions regarding probable cause were already addressed by the grand jury.

Consult with a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney About Grand Jury Proceedings

If you were arrested after a grand jury indictment, please contact Glasgow & Olsson at 847-577-8700 or via our website. We can set up a consultation to explain how your criminal case will move forward and discuss potential strategies to defend against the charges.

(image courtesy of Brandon Mowinkel)

Police Dog Searches at School: Students’ Rights

Law enforcement and school officials at all levels have been cracking down on drug crimes in schools. Police have even resorted to conducting searches by using drug-sniffing dogs and specially trained K-9 units. Because they seem rather invasive, you may have concerns about whether these activities are a violation of students’ legal rights. The answer is far from simple. You should discuss your situation with an Illinois criminal defense and school searches attorney, but some general information may be helpful.

Overview of Unlawful Search and Seizure

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution protects individuals from unlawful search and seizure by police; the Bill of Rights to the Illinois Constitution closely mirrors this provision. Law enforcement can only conduct a search if there is warrant supported by probable cause or a reasonable suspicion of the presence of criminal activity.

However, the protection against unlawful search and seizure only applies when police seek to investigate a location or space where the subject has a reasonable expectation of privacy. A home or business would be such an area; recently, the US Supreme Court also expanded the expectation of privacy to law enforcement searches of cell phone records. So, a warrant issued by a Judge would be needed to search all of these places.

K-9 Searches in Schools

State and federal laws on searches have different implications in the school environment. Courts have consistently held that students do not have the same reasonable expectation of privacy while at school. Public officials – including administrators, teachers, police, and dogs – are allowed to investigate when:

  • The search is based upon the reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, which is typically the presence of drugs in the school setting; and,
  • The search is reasonable in scope.

As further support for police dog searches at school, courts have also held that allowing them also serves a compelling public interest — maintaining a drug-free environment at educational institutions.

Application of the Exclusionary Rule

So, what happens when the police dog search is not reasonable? Regardless of whether or not there was a violation of your constitutional rights, you could be arrested if law enforcement or school officials did find contraband. The result is that all evidence obtained pursuant to an illegal search must be excluded from the evidence against you or your child.

The theory behind the exclusionary rule is that illegally-obtained evidence is “fruit of the poisonous tree,” so it is essentially tainted in a criminal case. If the prosecution can not use this evidence in court, there may be no way to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The charges could be dismissed entirely, or you could get an acquittal at trial.

Contact a Skilled Defense Attorney About Unlawful Police Dog Searches

If you or your child was arrested because of a wrongful police dog search at school, please contact the criminal defense attorneys at Glasgow & Olsson. You can reach our Schaumburg, IL office by calling 847-577-8700 or visiting our website. We can schedule a consultation to review your case and determine whether there has been a violation of your civil rights. Our lawyers represent clients in Cook, DuPage, McHenry, Kane, and Lake Counties in connection with a wide variety of criminal charges, and we are happy to help.

(image courtesy of Yaroslava Eff)