I told you so.

Earlier this year I took issue with one of those news reports that seemed sourced mostly from a police press release. Or, at least, a police spokesperson who wasn’t about to let the reporter ask any real questions.  By this point, I’m sure you know how much I love police press releases.  Because I know this is the internet and I know you’re part of the short-attention-span Mtv (or whatever channel is cool now) generation, I also know you’re not going to bother reading the other post. So, here were the highlights:

  1. A school principal from Johnsburg was arrested for sending “offensive” letters (as though it’s illegal to be “offensive”) to parents;
  2. Because the charges were minor and because nobody would have really known otherwise, the police decided to blab to the media about it;
  3. Because it was a school official it made the paper;

What the press release didn’t say and what did not, therefore, make the paper was that this was a bad arrest and a bogus case.  So bad, and so bogus, as a matter of fact, that anybody who has been around the criminal courts for any length of time could read right through the police babble and see it.  Of course, by anybody, I even mean me. I had this to say at the time:

Folks, this is a bad case.  How do I know?  First clue is the description of what she wrote.  Look how vague it is.  Were the letters threatening? No.  They were offensive? Yeah?  How so?  Would you have been offended by those words?  Would I have? Offensive to whom?
Go ahead and Tell me what the words were. I’m a big boy. I can handle it.  What were they?
Oh.  You‘re not going to do that?

I hate to say “I told you so,” and I won’t. I will say that the case was dismissed within 60 days of the charges being filed, though.

Where’s the police press release on that?  Where are the apologies?  Where is the “we’re sorry we over-hyped a case because of the political aspect and dragged this lady through the mud on some garbage charges”?

I’ll just sit here patiently waiting for Johnsburg to apologize.  I’m going to stock up on Cheetos and crossword puzzles first, though, because something tells me it could be a long wait.

Driver sober AND get pulled over.

Nothing warms my jaded, criminal defense attorney heart more than when law enforcement comes up with cute catch phrases.  I’ve always loved it when Illinois State Troopers talk about the “Fatal 4”.  I especially love “click it or ticket” because the Illinois law really only lived up to a “watered down” version of the phrase until the decidedly “big government” Bush administration tied changes in the law to eligibility for federal funding:

SENATE BILL 50: Primary Seat belt Legislation
The new law changes the Illinois Vehicle Code’s seat belt law from a “secondary” violation to a “primary” violation. Formerly, law enforcement officials could not stop a motor vehicle solely on the basis of a violation of the seat belt law. This law removes that exception, enabling law enforcement officials to stop vehicles solely on the basis of seat belt violations. The law provides that a law enforcement officer may not search or inspect a motor vehicle, its contents, the driver or a passenger solely because of a violation of this law. The law took effect immediately upon signing by the governor. Illinois is the first state this year to enact primary safety belt legislation and the 19th state across the country.

No discussion of cute-catch-phrases-tied-to-federal-funding would be complete without “Drive Sober Or Get Pulled Over” though.  As I explained back in December, that propaganda (and, more accurately, the funding behind it), is why you start seeing news of all the “checkpoints” that pop up everywhere around the holidays (I really should go back to see exactly how many St. Charles DUI arrests were made as a result of that weekend… and then check that number against the number of DUI arrests made on a “normal” weekend to see if the the money and resources spent were actually justified).

Nevertheless, I’m very saddened to read today that not everywhere lives by “drive sober or get pulled over.”  In fact, in Wisconsin, it looks like they’ve bought into quite the opposite- drive sober and get pulled over:

Tanya Weyker was hurt so badly, she couldn’t blow into a breath-testing device or perform field sobriety tests. But a Sheriff’s deputy arrested her for drunk driving anyway. And the County hung those charges over her head for nearly a year, even long after blood tests proved she was perfectly sober.

Wait. She was just driving down the road and got a DUI?  Nothing is that simple. Obviously, there’s a catch.  That catch is that you’ve got to let the cop run into you, first (and lie about it, second):

A Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Deputy rolls through a stop sign and causes a violent crash. So why was the victim placed under arrest?
A FOX6 Investigation finds that a deputy’s changing story may have changed one woman’s life forever.
* * *  

Continue reading “Driver sober AND get pulled over.”

Drugs, Schools, Parks and completely random drug/school/parks laws.

Sometimes a drug deal in Elgin is just a drug deal.

I’ve given up reading some of the local papers each day to catch up on my crime news.  At this point, I’d rather go straight to the source- the police and State’s Attorney’s media releases.  After all, if they’re accurate and objective enough for the newspaper, they must be good enough for me, right?  So, allow me, if you will, to do what I often see in some of the news outlets by cutting and pasting part of the Kane County State’s Attorney’s latest media release as though it’s real news:

[section_alt background_color=”]

ELGIN MAN GETS 15-YEAR SENTENCE FOR COCAINE SALE

April 18, 2014 – An Elgin man with a history of violent offenses has been sent to prison for selling cocaine near a public park. Samuel E. Span, 31 (d.o.b. 7-27-1983), of the 300 block of North Liberty Street, Elgin, was sentenced late Thursday, April 17, 2014, by Circuit Judge John A. Barsanti to 15 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Span was convicted Feb. 28, 2014, by Judge Barsanti of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a park, a Class X felony, and unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, a Class 1 felony.

On Feb. 22, 2013, Span and co-defendant Mateo Cedillo, 26 (d.o.b. 6-3-1987) of the 200 block of South State Street, Elgin, sold 5.5 grams of cocaine to an undercover officer at Cedillo’s home. The home is within 1,000 feet of Ryerson Park in the 300 block of Ryerson Avenue on Elgin’s near west side…[/section_alt]

Of course that’s not the entire press release. I cut it off before it got too boring.  I also took the liberty of highlighting the silly parts- that this man’s house is an especially bad place to sell drugs, and its especially worse because it’s within 1000 feet of a park or school.

Now, I know you’re confused because you think I just said that people should be able to sell drugs by schools.  That’s not true. What is true is that the 1000 feet is a completely arbitrary distance with no real significance.

Police ask to meet drug dealers within 1000 feet of parks all the time.

Continue reading “Drugs, Schools, Parks and completely random drug/school/parks laws.”

The Unfair Fight.

I’m not willing to let this press release/social media campaign issue die yet.  Like I wrote about a while back, an inordinate amount of your local crime news is cut-and-pasted directly from press releases issued by police and prosecutor’s office.  Don’t believe me?  See for yourself.  I’m not the only one who’s written about this.

Tonight, while I’m minding my own business and getting gnawed on by the dog, I took a look at the Kane County Chronicle to see if there was anything interesting I didn’t catch while at the courthouse.  It doesn’t appear that there was.  On the other hand, I did find this interesting article which got my little brain churning:

Aurora man convicted in North Aurora home invasion
Published: Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 5:30 a.m. CST
 By KANE COUNTY CHRONICLE – editorial@kcchronicle.com
ST. CHARLES TOWNSHIP – An Aurora man will be sentenced this spring for his role in a North Aurora home invasion that left a couple terrorized and a dog dead, according to a news release from the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office…
Then it goes on, of course, to essentially re-hash the Kane County State’s Attorney’s press release.  The highlight is the following quote from the Kane County State’s Attorney himself:
“Mr. Mullen took advantage of his friends for his own personal gain by threatening and inflicting violence them,” McMahon said.
Before you get on my case for clearly omitting either the word “upon” or “on” before “them”, let me assure you that I left nothing out.  Read the article yourself, that’s exactly what it says:
newspaper
Of course, it only says that because that’s also exactly what the press release says:
mediarelesae

We’re not here to talk about lazy reporting and sloppy editing today though– certainly I’ve missed my fair share of mistakes in posts here.  So, I won’t judge.  On the other hand, we are here to talk about the substance of these reports.

Therein lies the unfair fight.  Every time I read through my twitter account and see police department and State’s Attorney’s offices patting themselves on the back and bragging about their heroic victories, I’m caused to wonder (and sometimes tweet) if they’ll ever let the public know the other side of the story- about the cases they’ve charged, prosecuted and lost.

Of course they won’t.  You assume I will, though.

Not a chance.

Being a criminal defense attorney is a lot like playing in the defensive backfield in the NFL- you  may have been burned for a touchdown or you may have intercepted a pass on the last play. It doesn’t matter, though.  You need to get the last play out of your mind because the next play is coming up… and you might just get burned for a touchdown (or intercept a pass).

Sadly, most of the cases in criminal court get resolved through deals.  Nothing can mess up an attorney’s ability to work a good deal for their client than too much ego- on either side of the case.  If I won a trial today and issued a press release naming names and pointing fingers, it might be fine today.  Tomorrow, though?  Tomorrow I’m right back at it (probably with the same prosecutor) but for a different client.  What I don’t want is this client to get a bad (or no) offer because I embarrassed the prosecutor on the last case.

That’s not to say that defense attorneys don’t beat their own drums on occasion.  It is to say, however, that there’s a practical reason it’s a lot less prevalent than what we’re seeing with police and prosecutors right now.

That’s just another reason you’ve got to be skeptical whenever you’re reading local crime news.  Those news articles are often a battle for public sentiment and support.  It’s largely a one-sided battle. It’s an unfair fight.

The Elgin Police Department is a little out of touch, maybe.

You know how whenever the government does something that it’s already paid to do it tells us how it did something so that we all know that it’s doing something which we expected all along, anyway?  That’s a big part of why police press releases exist.  I don’t necessarily blame the men in blue for this, though.  It’s a political system and people are always trying to cut budgets here and spend money elsewhere.  So, maybe they need to over-state what they do.

I don’t know.

I do know that a lot of the police press releases are amusing.  Like this one from the Elgin Police Department.  It seems that an officer from the Elgin PD arrested a man with a gun and, well, they wanted us all to know.  According to their press release:

On November 1, 2013 the Mulberry Court Resident Police Officer was on patrol in his neighborhood when he observed suspicious activity from subjects in a vehicle and conducted a traffic stop in the area of Allison Drive and Jane Drive. While conducting the investigation two subjects in the vehicle fled on foot. One subject, identified as 19 year old, Devonne L. Montgomery, of Crestwood, was apprehended in the 200 block of Robert Drive after a short foot pursuit, and taken into custody on two outstanding criminal warrants.

While officers continued to investigate the incident, a citizen advised officers that they observed Montgomery throw an item in the bushes where he was apprehended. Officers searched the area and recovered a loaded handgun.

Now, I’m going to go ahead and pretend my little criminal defense eyes didn’t read that first sentence.  I mean, while “suspicious activity” can be a reason for an officer to perform a traffic stop on a car, without more detail it isn’t necessarily the case that it does.  And, if it actually didn’t here, that means it’s possible the entire case might be thrown outin which case the Elgin PD would really just be announcing a bollixed case.

Without more details, we’ll just assume the stop was legitimate for today’s purposes.  It won’t be easy for me to do, but I’ll do it.

Aside from that, the part that I was surprised they included was the following (with my emphasis added):

While officers continued to investigate the incident, a citizen advised officers that they observed Montgomery throw an item in the bushes where he was apprehended. Officers searched the area and recovered a loaded handgun.

 ***

It should be noted that officers were assisted greatly by residents in the neighborhood providing witness information.  It is cooperation such as this that continues to improve the Elgin community.   

Ever watch The First 48 and wonder why nobody in the community will ever talk to the detectives?  I mean, nobody on that show ever talks- except for the defendant who, 75% of the time, seems to think that confessing is the clear path to a “not guilty” (hint: it’s not).  Nobody talks because they believe that if they do, the defendant or his buddies will find out.  If that happens, the person who talked may just be retaliated against (related sidenote: “retaliated against” is a nice way for saying “murdered” or “severely injured”).

Before you go off the deep end and accuse me of somehow endorsing this mentality- read that again.  The reality is that the quickest way for crime-riddled communities to clean themselves up is to ensure that crimes are quickly solved.  Sadly, though, the other side of that reality is that many crime-riddled communities are that way because people who talk to the police aren’t exactly embraced by the community- like it or not, that’s how it is.

So, you know who doesn’t want anybody to know who they are and that they just talked to police?  The people who just told the police that one of their neighbors threw a gun in the bushes. Did the Elgin Police Department identify those people by name? Of course not.  That doesn’t mean they should have mentioned it at all, though. Just because we don’t know who the person was (and we shouldn’t), doesn’t mean the guy who threw the gun (or his buddies on the outside) can’t figure it out.  How many people will keep talking to the police if they know that a press release posted to the public will brag about how people are giving information?

I get that the Elgin PD is trying to let us know that Elgin is looking out for itself and possibly trying to turn around an undeserved reputation among people living in other cities.  Press releases like this might ultimately be counter-productive, though.

Bomb Threats at the Kane County Courthouses: Probably a Bad Idea

Earlier this week somebody, apparently, phoned in a couple of bomb threats to the Kane County Clerk’s office.  As a result, they closed the Kane County Judicial Center in St. Charles, the Kane County Branch Court that’s a mile away and the Elgin Branch Court. I know I’m going out on a limb here, but this bomb threat was probably a bad idea. Maybe even the worst idea of the week.

The Sheriff in Kane County is like many of your local lawmen across the country- well trained in responding and dealing to these sorts of threats. So, he kicked all the lawyers out of the judicial center, closed it for a couple hours, and then re-opened the courthouses and got back to business.  It was over quickly.

For everybody except the people making the threats, anyway.  See, these bomb threats are felonies- serious felonies.  Felonies are generally bad things to try to squeeze into your busy week.  Some are worse than others, though.  This would fall into that category.

I know I didn’t have to tell you that, though.  You remember 9/11, and you know that anything that has anything to do with mentioning bombs isn’t about bombs any more- it’s about terrorTerror equals extra-bad punishment.

That’s not really the worst part of this bad idea, though.  The worst part is that the alleged bomb-threat maker called the threats in to the clerk’s office.  According to the Kane County Chronicle:

Two threatening phone calls Wednesday morning prompted the evacuation of the Kane County Judicial Center in St. Charles Township, the Kane County Branch Court in St. Charles and the Elgin Branch Court in Elgin, Gengler said. He noted other court buildings were checked as well.

Sheriff Pat Perez said the calls came in about 9:40 a.m. A voicemail message was left at the Kane County Circuit Clerk’s Office, which shares a building with the Kane County Branch Court, he said.

The message was “a lot of people in Kane County are going to die today,” Perez said.

QuadComm – a dispatcher for Dundee, Carpentersville and Algonquin – relayed a second call to KaneComm, Perez said. That caller said four bombs were planted at the courthouse, Perez said, noting officials took that to mean the Kane County Judicial Center.

Authorities have identified a person of interest for both calls, Perez said, noting they are different people.

I’m no Magnum P.I. but I know exactly how the authorities found these two “persons of interest.”  They looked around for the a rock large enough for two people to hide under.  That’s the only place anybody could possibly be to have no idea what’s been going on with law enforcement and phones.  And by that, of course, I’m referring things like the government’s ability to track your cell phone even when it’s off, and the fact that AT&T is fine turning over all of your phone data- even if it was from over twenty years ago.  Who thinks they can phone in bomb threats anywhere and not get nabbed quickly, any more?  Only guys under rocks.

If you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to worry about, right?  I don’t know about that, but I know that if you’re phoning in bomb threats to the St. Charles courthouse- or anywhere else- you do have something to hide.

I guess if I could give you people one piece of advice from all of this it’s that you shouldn’t ever make bomb threats– doubly so if you’re going to do it over the phone. It never ends well.

The Geneva Police Crash Jenny McCarthy’s Party.

You knew Jenny McCarthy lived in Geneva, right?  If you didn’t (and you should have) you know now.  She’s been around a while.  She even posted some Swedish Days pictures on twitter earlier this year.

Now she’s been associated with some of the cities biggest scofflaws.  How do I know that?  There’s not exactly a lot of crime in Geneva. But, it seems that she had a party the other night and a lot of her fancy California guests got busted.  From the Kane County Chronicle:

GENEVA – A night out with Hollywood stars at a Jenny McCarthy charity event ended with tickets for public intoxication for some outside a nightspot in Geneva, records show.

McCarthy’s event, which took place Aug. 24 at the Hotel Baker in St. Charles, raised money for Bridges Montessori Academy in St. Charles. Among those cited were actors and dancers.

Then, at about 12:30 a.m., Aug. 25, 30 to 40 guests came with McCarthy to EvenFlow Music and Spirits, 302 W. State St., Geneva, according to Michael Knuth, who, along with Nicholas Mercadante, owns the bar, dinner and live music venue.

“It was a very nice night,” Knuth said. “Jenny invited her guests from Baker Hotel. She was very nice and enjoyed music and spirits.”
Knuth said the last call for drinks was 1:50 a.m. The guests did not drink any alcoholic beverages in that time, he said, because it’s against the city’s liquor code to serve alcohol between 2 and 6 a.m.
“They were not here at 5 a.m.; they were outside waiting for a cab,” Knuth said. “I don’t know how long they were waiting. Who knows where they went or what they did, but as for me and my bar, they were not drinking.”

Oddly enough, the police reports seem to give a different version of events:

According to reports, Joanne McCarthy told police they arrived at EvenFlow at 1:45 a.m. for an after-hours party and they drank alcoholic beverages, up until they went outside, right before police arrived at 5:45 a.m.
Also according to reports, Monaco was belligerent to officers at times, and “repeatedly stated she was a celebrity on the television shows ‘General Hospital’ and ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ “
The report states that Monaco’s demeanor changed when police advised her of the consequences of of her behavior.
Gault, a server at EvenFlow, told police she drank alcohol herself as well as served it to the group after the business closed.
According to police reports, Mercadante told police he admitted serving alcohol to the group until their departure at 5:45 a.m. because he wanted to “accommodate some ‘famous’ people and made a poor choice for his business.”

Uh, oh.

That last version of events tells me a couple of things.  First, EvenFlow could be in a lot of trouble.  Whatever good benefit they may have received from being the place that Jenny McCarthy parties at might very well get wiped out by a liquor license suspension.  Second, people need to do a better job of reading what I write when it comes to dealing with the police.  Your friends (or the people you think are your friends) will always rat you out- just ask Lance Armstrong.

Drinking and driving could cost you your license. Unless you’re underage… then you don’t need to be driving.

You know that party that all the underage high-school kids were at?  The one that got busted by the police and a bunch of kids got charged with underage drinking?  Maybe you don’t know the specific party I’m talking about, but you know what I’m talking about- it happens all the time.  You read about it in the paper.  With summer in full swing right now, you can’t flip through the Kane County Chronicle without seeing another similar story:

Fifteen teens, 5 juveniles charged with drinking in Batavia

BATAVIA – Fifteen teenagers and five juveniles were charged with underage drinking after police were called at 12:13 a.m. Wednesday to the 1100 block of Woodland Hills Road for a complaint of an unlawful residential gathering…

I read about this stuff in the paper, too. Unfortunately, I see the other side of it as well– the side where all these kids walk into court, with disappointed parents in tow, and plead guilty.  Because, well, when kids do something wrong parents are there to tell them to accept responsibility and “do the right thing.”  Of course, what a lot of parents don’t know is that they’re walking their kids into a driver’s license suspension.

It doesn’t matter if the kids and alcohol are sitting on a swing set in a part in Geneva, in a private basement in St. Charles, or at an “unlawful residential gathering in Batavia.”  They don’t have to be driving. They don’t even have to be near a car.  They can have their license suspended if they’re found guilty- even if they get supervision.

The judge doesn’t have to tell them that, either.  Some judges do- others don’t.  Many of the families find out about the suspensions when they get a letter from the Secretary of State’s Office.

It’s not uncommon to see them running back to court, though.  It’s one thing to make a kid do some community service or pay a fine. It’s another to keep him from getting to work or helping his parents by picking up the siblings.  For some parents (even the most well meaning parents who wanted their kid to “do the right thing”) the loss of a license is a much of a burden on the family as it is on the kid.

So, they end up back in court on a motion to vacate the initial plea of guilty.  Sometimes they get that done in the required 30 days.  Sometimes they don’t.

How’s that turn out?  It can turn out a lot of ways.  Sometimes it’s all a waste of time.  Sometimes they can get the charge amended.

So, what’s the point?  The point is this: I’m not shy about telling people they don’t need a lawyer for the small stuff.  When it comes to underage possession or underage consumption of alcohol, though, it’s best to at least call and talk to a lawyer.  You really ought to know what you’re getting into before you get into it.   You should also know if there’s some way to avoid consequences you might not even know about.  Hopefully these kids in Batavia will figure that out before it’s too late.

Area crime rates: People have no idea.

I just stumbled upon the Tribune’s crime rate listings.  It’s buried in the “Homes” section, but updated through 2009.  There’s some interesting stuff in there.

Interesting, but not surprising, is that crime (or, at least, criminal filings) has dropped substantially from 2003 to 2009.  For instance, St. Charles had a crime rate of 30.4 (per 1,000 residents) in 2003. That number has dropped to 24.2 for St. Charles in 2009.  That’s fairly representative of the types of changes every town has seen.

Even more interesting is where some of the larger Kane County towns land in the rankings.  Most notably, Aurora.  People not from the area think one of two things when they think of Aurora: either that it’s filled with gangs or that it’s like living in Wayne’s World.  Neither of those perceptions is really accurate.

I’m not sure anybody thinks it’s got a lower crime rate than Woodstock, though.  According to those stats, though, it does.  Maybe Woodstock is over-run with gangs?  Hardly.

It’s easy to play games with the numbers.  Woodstock might have a higher crime rate because of they way it reports crime or because it’s more willing to charge and prosecute minor offenses than other towns.  It’s hard to tell.  I’m not worried about going to either place, though.

Police… and Their Integrity.

Pretty interesting piece running over in the Daily Herald.  If you’re not aware, there was a very major bust of some suburban Chicago (not anywhere in Kane County, thankfully) undercover cops who had purportedly found a way to make a little “extra income” while on the job.  Apparently the McHenry City Police Department isn’t the only office with this sort of issue.  Pretty sad.  Especially considering the cops want you to believe they’e better than regular people.

The gist of the Daily Herald article is pretty simple:

But who bears the responsibility of ensuring that officers working undercover don’t cross the line between acting like a criminal and becoming one?

I’m not going to go on a long rant about this.  I do that enough about stuff I can’t change.  I’ve got an idea, though.

People have asked me why I don’t like the cops. I really don’t have a problem with that profession.  I have friends who are cops.  I respect a lot of cops.  I come across cops all the time that are decent people doing great work.

What I have a problem with is “Meatball Police Culture.”  It’s something that, I’m sure, they start to hear at the Police Training Institute.  That’s that cops are the “thin blue line” between good and evil.  Between “us” and “them.”  If it wasn’t for the thin blue line, all of “them” would take over and kill “us” (or vice versa depending on where you stand), right?  If you don’t support the thin blue line, you’re automatically one of “them.”

Dammit, line up and get your cute thin blue line products and support the men and women keeping “them” away from “us.”

The profession can’t embrace that attitude.  It only causes itself more problems.  Cops are people just like anyone else.  It’s not “us” against anybody or the cops collectively against anybody else.  It’s easy to not keep an eye on your own buddies when your attitude is that it’s you and your buddies against the world.  That’s what the Meatball Culture does.  It’s cops looking out for cops against both “us” and “them.”

I’ve got a case right now where, on video, an Illinois State Police Trooper stops a car for a tinted window.  When he walks up to the car, he’s got his hand on his gun.  The cop is visibly agitated, swears at my client, and yells several times as though he might pull his gun out.  I guess you might need to know what side that driver is on before you can be sure you don’t have to shoot him, right?

If cops were that skeptical towards each other, maybe the debacles at places like Schaumburg and McHenry wouldn’t happen.  If a large number of cops didn’t act as though they were a righteous tribe solely tasked with keeping “them” off of “us” perhaps they’d have more energy to police the police, and less energy to harass Star Trek fans.

Just a thought.