You Can’t Turn Over Police Reports You Haven’t Written.

Between pondering how the courthouse bathrooms were trashed within 10 minutes of the place opening, and hoping that the cooler temps mean we’ll see less than 80 people shot in the city this weekend, I managed to come across a great post on Simple Justice.  The post was Mr. Greefield’s ruminations on the pervasive practice of prosecutors disclosing evidence on the eve of trial.  By “eve of trial” I mean years after they were ordered to disclose it.

If you’re unfamiliar, this happens all the time. It happens with such frequency that it’s not even surprising… to the judges.  By-and-large, judges may act frustrated with the practice, but nothing ever really happens about it.  Greenfield’s post, titled “When the Judge Says ‘Meh'” sums it up better than I ever could:

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This would be an excellent place to point out the irony that the prosecution puts a person on trial for violating the law, while it simultaneously violates the law, but that only plays to the naïve. Reality is that we, the players in the system, both know this and live with this all the time. We have for as long as I’ve practiced law.
The prosecution holds a special place in the system, a combination of low expectations of competence and efficacy, and facile excuses for its neglect and failures.  They are the systems saviors, and while any defendant or defense lawyer would be led out of the courtroom in cuffs if we did a fraction of what the prosecution does regularly, they get a free pass.

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You can spend years getting ready for a trial, develop a great theory, work towards gathering and presenting evidence and at the last second a prosecutor turns over something new (to you, of course, not them) that you’re neither expecting nor ready for.

To quote Mr. Greenfield, the judge says “Meh.” It never seems to matter.

In the past year, I’ve twice had cases set for trial and, within days of the trial date the prosecutor turned over police reports.  Obviously that’s not new.

What is new is that in both of those cases the police reports had not even been written until a year after the offense.  In one of the cases, the prosecutor talked to the cop and told him to write a report. Of course, the report was directed at defeating the motion to suppress arrest that was headed for an evidentiary hearing.  Nothing shady about that, right?

In the other case, the prosecutor didn’t even know the cops had info they “hadn’t gotten around” to writing up in a report.

So, you’re about to go to trial, the prosecutor was ordered to get you any and all evidence he intends to use at trial over a year ago, all the decisions you and your client have made to this point are based on the evidence that you had been given, and now you are getting police reports that were written only because your client is contesting the charges against him.  What happens now?

You’re outraged. You’re shocked. You’re asking for the “new” evidence to get barred. You’re asking for a continuance.

The judge, though? What’s the judge say? Mr. Greenfield nailed it.

Just how the system is supposed to work. If it isn’t, then why does it?

McHenry County Branch Court is Closing. Interesting.

If you’re not aware, McHenry County actually holds court in two “courthouses”.  There’s the main courthouse at 2200 N. Seminary (right on Route 47) in Woodstock. There’s also a “branch” court that meets on Wednesdays in the City of McHenry village board meeting room.

Most counties have these branch courts.  In fact, most counties have many more of them than McHenry County.  The de-centralized court systems are more convenient to the public.  As they often times pop up in odd, inexpensive-to-rent places, the costs to operate can be relatively low.  How much can it really cost to use village board meeting rooms (like Carpentersville and Elgin branch courts, Mchenry branch court), strip mall store fronts (there used to be a whole bunch of these in Lake County) or VFW Halls (like Downer’s Grove Field court) to rent?   Continue reading “McHenry County Branch Court is Closing. Interesting.”

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.

Crime News… Whose Perspective?

Obviously I love to troll the press and media releases for local crime.  They amuse me.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  What’s not really amusing, though, is how much they influence what shows up in the newspaper…. and how they get there.

If you read a newspaper article and don’t know what’s going on, you’d think a newpaper reporter was sitting in a courtroom watching trials as they unfold.  That certainly does happen a lot of the time.  What happens more often is that a reporter sits in for parts of a trial.  That’s exactly what was going on when the back of my head made the Huffington Post last year. Of course, in that case, the parts of the trial the reporters weren’t sitting in on were the ones where we presented our side of the case.  Crazy how that works.

Anyhow, what seems to be happening more often (especially in Kane County) is that media and press releases are pushed out to media outlets, who then write stories based largely on the reports.  Of course, those reports are coming from the Kane County State’s Attorneys office, and the police departments.

For example, take this story in the Elgin Courior News:

South Elgin woman guilty of filing false child abuse reports

From Submitted Reports December 6, 2013 4:42PM
Updated: December 9, 2013 12:30PM
A South Elgin woman has been found guilty of making a false report of child abuse that included coloring her young son with ink and claiming it was bruising caused by the boy’s stepmother, the Kane County State’s Attorney Office said.
Kimberly Carlyle, 47, of the 200 block of Nicole Drive, was convicted Friday in a trial before Circuit Judge Susan Clancy Boles of two counts of disorderly conduct, each a Class 2 felony

This story says it’s from “submitted reports” on December 6, 2013.  I wonder what “submitted report” that might be?

It’s not hard to find, really.  On December 6, 2013 the twitter account for the Kane County State’s Attorney’s office posted as follows:

If you follow that link, it takes you right to a prepared, pre-formatted press release from the Kane County prosecutor’s office.  If you go ahead and look through the Kane SAO twitter account, you’ll find all sorts of links to press releases, too.

It doesn’t take much investigation to figure out that that press release was a major source for the newspaper story.  According to the press release:

Kimberly Carlyle, 47 (d.o.b. 7-29-1966), of the 200 block of Nicole Drive, South Elgin, was convicted today by Circuit Judge Susan Clancy Boles or two counts of disorderly conduct, each a Class 2 felony.

Carlyle waived her right to a jury trial.

According to the newspaper:

Kimberly Carlyle, 47, of the 200 block of Nicole Drive, was convicted Friday in a trial before Circuit Judge Susan Clancy Boles of two counts of disorderly conduct, each a Class 2 felony.

Carlyle waived her right to a jury trial.

Press release:

On Sept. 6, 2009, Carlyle called the Kane County Sheriff’s Office to report that her young child had been physically abused during a visit with the child’s biological father and his wife. Carlyle claimed that bruises she said appeared on her child were the result of physical abuse. When a sheriff’s deputy told Carlyle that she had contacted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to investigate further, Carlyle acknowledged that the bruises were actually ink that had since washed off. When contacted later by DCFS, Carlyle apologized, acknowledged that the bruising marks were actually ink and said that she had no reason to believe that the child was being abused.

Newspaper:

According to prosecutors, on Sept. 6, 2009, Carlyle called the Kane County Sheriff’s Office to report that her young child had been physically abused during a visit with the child’s biological father and his wife. Carlyle claimed that bruises she said appeared on her child were the result of physical abuse. When a sheriff’s deputy told Carlyle that she had contacted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to investigate further, Carlyle acknowledged that the bruises were actually ink that had since washed off.

When contacted later by DCFS, Carlyle apologized, acknowledged that the bruising marks were actually ink and said that she had no reason to believe that the child was being abused.

I could keep going on, but I won’t. You get the idea- the article is practically a word-for-word regurgitation of the Kane County State’s Attorney’s media release.  It’s not so much an article as it is a rebroadcast of a prosecutor’s statement about the outcome of the case.  If the defendant had been found not-guilty, then what would the Kane County State’s Attorney’s press release say?  There wouldn’t be one, of course.

This happens nearly every day, all over Chicagoland.

So, when you’re reading the news are you really reading the news? Or are you reading propaganda from a prosecutor or police department?  I certainly have my opinion on that.

I’m curious about the human remains found in that house near McHenry. Real curious.

Last week word got out that the police had found human remains in a house in McHenry.  The McHenry County Sheriff’s Police wouldn’t say much. They especially wouldn’t say if “foul play” might have been involved.

I don’t usually jump the gun on speculating on such things- it’s not worth it. After reading the latest update in the Northwest Herald, though, I’m curious as to the full story.  According to their story titled, “Skeletal remains found near McHenry; homeowner charged,Lawrence Synett writes that:

Deputies were called to the residence near McHenry in an unincorporated area of the county around 2 p.m. Wednesday after the caretaker of the home found skeletal remains inside a bedroom of the home, Undersheriff Andrew Zinke said.
The woman, who has not yet been identified, appeared to have been dead for some time. A criminal complaint filed in McHenry County Court said Ross put the body in a plastic bag and sealed the room where her remains were found.

He then goes on to quote Undersheriff Andy Zinke:

“Our focus is on identifying the victim and notifying the family,” Zinke said. “This is an ongoing homicide investigation with a lot of unanswered questions. We are hopeful to bring closure to someone’s family relatively soon.”

That right there is where I get curious.  The homeowner has been charged with “concealing a homicidal death.”  In order to be guilty of that charge, a person must “knowingly [conceal] the death of any other person with knowledge that such other person has died by homicidal means.” (Emphasis added)  Of course, a “homicidal” death is one that results because of “act or acts, lawful or unlawful, of a person that cause the death of another person.”

So, this man has been charged with concealing the death of a person whom he knows died at the hands of another person.

Do you suspect foul play now?  I’m not sure if I do or don’t- that doesn’t really matter. What I wonder about is if the remains of this person were so decayed that the police couldn’t immediately determine a cause of death.  And if they couldn’t, how could you charge a man with concealing a homicidal death (as opposed to “concealment of death”- a less serious charge)?