Dealing with the police (video): How did this guy do?

So, you decide.  Was it worth “talking” in an effort to “not look guilty?”

One of my favorite things to do is break down the abstract rules of “the law” into practical, useful information.  For instance, I’ve explained two simple things to consider if you don’t want to be arrested.  I even wrote a little bit on my three favorite things to hear out of people when they are dealing with the police.  If you haven’t read that yet, you might want to check it out.  Otherwise the rest of this post will make (even) less sense.

Earlier today it occurred to me that my ideas on how to act around the police might be difficult to envision.  It’s one thing to hear how my soul warms when reading a “suspect” tell a police officer that they’re not going to speak without first talking to a lawyer.  It’s another to see how that interaction actually unfolds in real life.  After all, no two situations are the same.  This is precisely why nothing on this web page can be considered legal advice as to how you should act in your particular circumstance.  If you really need legal advice, feel free to call.  If you anonymously read this stuff, decide to play amateur lawyer, and put it into action without talking to an attorney first, you are playing a dangerous game.  Just call a lawyer.

Anyhow, a quick review of my three favorite things to hear:

  1. “Am I free to leave?”
  2. “I want to speak with an attorney before I talk to you.”
  3. “No”

Now, suppose you find yourself in an alley one day under police suspicion.  Two police officers are all in your business.  What do you do?  When do you say what?  Assume that you have already been arrested, so asking if you are free to leave isn’t going to get you anywhere- scrap that off the list.  Let’s also pretend you are wearing a green shirt, and your name is Mr. Turner.  Shall we?

Keep in mind, many people say they don’t want to say any of “My Three Favorite Things” because it makes them look guilty.  Did you watch the plight of Mr. Turner?  If you have been able to get over the shock of seeing people wearing short sleeves at 5:00 a.m. in December, think about what just happened in that video.  Would Mr. Turner look more or less guilty if he had done the following:

  • Said “I would like to speak with an attorney” (at about :19) instead of saying (paraphrased to delete expletive) “I understand I was driving under the influence, but I wasn’t driving… I WASN’T driving.”
  • Said “no” when asked to do the balance test (at about :55) instead of rambling, ranting and eventually trying to do it.

That’s only for the first minute and a half of video.

Now put yourself in the shoes of a juror.  Assume that all you have to go on is that video.  Is he guilty of DUI?  Would he look more or less so if he had asked to talk to a lawyer?  I want to know. Seriously.  Send me an email, or let me know in the comments.

From a defense attorney perspective, this guy doesn’t have a bad case.  There is no video of him driving or actually being in the car.  He complicates it entirely with his attitude and most the stuff he says, though (ie. initially saying he knows he was driving drunk).  If he had said nothing, it’s a Not Guilty.  In fact, it’s probably not even going to trial.

With what he said, though, it gets a bit more difficult.  Illinois law doesn’t actually require you to drive in order to be found guilty of Driving Under the Influence of alcohol- silly as that may be.  Based on what his own statements were, he may have been in actual physical control.  Even though I still like Mr. Turner’s chances (and that is based just on the video alone… who knows what other “real life” evidence was presented for either side), his attitude may scare jurors.

So, you decide.  Was it worth “talking” in an effort to “not look guilty?”

Those silly legal scales

For 2011, I’m thinking that the Lady of Justice needs to be updated.  I’m for getting rid of the blindfold, ditching the scales and actually just using the likeness of my Great Grandmother.

Three guys are walking down the street and get confronted by a “victim.”  One of the men in the group pulls out a gun.  The other two in the group run away as the guy with the gun shoots.  The victim is struck once but is not critically wounded.  The shooter flees.

A witness tells police he saw three white guys running down an alley away from the scene.  That’s all the police have to go on.  What should they do?  What do they do?

They do what they’ve been taught- start taking people into custody.  Every guy in the area gets cuffed, put in a car, and locked up at the police station.  Guys walking down the street.  Guys at the 7-11.  Even guys sitting at home, but who might be “the usual suspects”.  Soon the police have three times as many people in custody as there were guys at the shooting.  With at most 3 guys there, the police have to know most of the people in custody could not possibly have been involved, right. How is that fair?

How would you feel if you were one of them?

You would think that police arresting every white guy in the area with nothing else to connect them to a crime might be something to make the news.  Who is going to tolerate the police locking up so many innocent people for no reason whatsoever?  Minding your own business is probable cause for what crime, exactly?

This stuff happens all the time.  All the time.  These facts are actually loosely based on a police report I recently read.  And, it did make the paper.  Not because the number of people taken into custody, though.  The newspaper article (based on information released by the police, of course) talked about how two men were arrested and a warrant was issued for a third.  It said nothing of the several other men who were bound with cuffs and caged like animals until the police decided they could leave.

I have a theory on why that part wasn’t included.  It’s not only because the police didn’t include it in their press release.  It’s because the men were actually black.

A big part of why I love this job is that I get to keep the police in check.  When they do something I don’t like, I get to push back.  It’s fun, but it’s also a difficult, uphill battle.  Despite that, I keep at it.  Mostly because I worry that someday I’m going to be the guy minding my own business but getting arrested for nothing.

I have simple needs.  The need to know I can walk down the street free to mind my own damn business without being arrested is one of them.  My need to know the police won’t be breaking down the door at night while I sleep is another.  So, it bothers me when other people walking down the street get “detained” for little reason.  It seems to me that an extremely vague physical description of three guys (only one of whom actually harmed anybody) shouldn’t be enough to lock up every guy in the area.  Yet, it happens.  So much so in many communities that it isn’t even news.  I know that if it happened in my neighborhood, it would be a fairly big deal.  Especially if it happened over and over and over again.

Let's get rid of this lady.

Justice is supposed to be blind.  You know those cliché scales that are on the business card and web page of every unimaginative law firm?  Despite the fact that many law firms completely screw it up, those “scales of justice” are supposed to be equally level.  The scales are actually being held by the Lady of Justice who has a sword in the other hand and is wearing a blindfold.  The blindfold, obviously, is to symbolize that justice is blind.  The equal scales are to show that justice is not only blind, but equal.  In theory, anyway.

For 2011, I’m thinking that the Lady of Justice needs to be updated.  Freshened up a bit, if you will.  I’m for getting rid of the blindfold, ditching the scales and actually just using the likeness of my Great Grandmother.  While the Lady of Justice makes for great imagery (and her scales look swell on business cards), my Great Grandmother more accurately reflects reality.

Why?  American “Justice” isn’t blind.  It’s also not equal. Like Grandma, it sees what it wants.  Also, like Grandma, it’s at least a little bit racist.

Now, before you go judging my poor, old, dead, Great Grandmother, it’s not like what you think.  She never locked up some kid who was just walking down the street (minding his own business).  She did not, however, trust Japanese people.  You bomb Pearl Harbor, and Grandma is going to hold a grudge.  For 45 years.  With the unfortunate demise of Grandma in the late 80’s came the fortunate demise of the grudge, though.

Nevertheless, a little bit racist is a little bit racist.  It’s no better for Grandma than it is for the justice system.  So, I nominate her as the new Lady of Justice.  She would be flattered, really.  Then we could put up “New Lady of Justice” statutes all over the place.  They could serve as a reminder that people going for an evening stroll might just get you locked up…. and that it probably isn’t even out-of-the-ordinary enough to be news.  Until then, I’ll just keep doing my best to push back.

There are no winners

Well, that was weird.  As of 11:00 a.m. today, the building administrator had no interest in taking down the white shirts.  As you already know, I went ahead with my plan to put on a display of orange shirts.

At, maybe, 2:00 today I received word that the t-shirt exhibit was coming down.  Out of the blue.  The County had a change of heart because the “handful” of cases that could go to trial next week.  That is about the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard- there were more than a handful that could have gone to trial over the last 3 weeks.  I won’t really comment much more on that though. I think the County has finally decided to do the right thing, and I am thankful for that.  Better late than before I get to put up Orange Shirts, right?  I’ve also decided to withdraw my request for a permit to hang the Orange Shirt Project.

On that note, somebody asked me if I this is a win.  I don’t see it like that.  It wasn’t “us v. them” or any such competition.  They wanted to put up the shirts, and were forced to take them down.  I got them taken down, but only after they were up for three weeks.

It’s a messed up situation that I’m hoping is never repeated.  Not at the courthouse, anyway.  If it is, though, I’ve already got some ideas in mind

Maybe, now that this is behind us, we can get back to the fun stuff?

Fairness wears an orange shirt

It’s been a week since I sent a letter to McHenry County officials.  The issue of the shirts was on the agenda for yesterday’s meeting among building administrators.  I don’t know what happened. All I know is that the shirts are still up.

As promised, I have applied for a permit to put up something I’m calling the “Orange Shirt Project.”  The language in my permit was “inspired” by that for the current t-shirt display.  And by “inspired” I really mean that it copies their permit… nearly word-for-word.  I don’t see how it can be denied.  My permit requests permission to begin the display on 12/1.  This should give me time to get it all organized.

Jail is not a joke.  This is not a joke.  Justice is not a joke.  So, I’m looking for some help.  I need to hear from those people whose lives have been negatively impacted by bogus allegations of wrongdoing.  Maybe you were arrested for a domestic battery you did not commit?  Did you ever get kicked out of your house by an order-of-protection based on lies?

I want to hear from you.  This stuff happens all the time.  Here is our opportunity to “educate” the public.

My goal would be to provide several of you with an opportunity to put a “human face” on the problem of being wrongfully accused.  I can provide orange shirts (matching the orange shirts given to McHenry County inmates) and a sharpie to design the shirt.  Your shirt will not display your name or anything that might identify you. It will only have your message.  The message you think the world needs to hear.

I do not want people with current cases pending.  I think it is impossibly unfair that the shirts hanging now may have been made by witnesses on pending cases (we do not know).  It would be just as unfair for us to do the same. So, we will not.

If you might be interested, please send me an email (  I think we can put together a moving, educational display.    Let me know if you would like to help.

Dirty Laundy

At lunch on Thursday, I penned a little letter.  I did something my girlfriend says I need to do more- I talked about my feelings

Sometimes I can’t help myself.  Sometimes I can’t take it anymore. This is one of those.

October is, apparently, domestic violence awareness month. Or something like that.  Every year the Woodstock courthouse celebrates this with a display of shirts.  Not any shirts, though.  White shirts that are “decorated” for domestic violence awareness month.  And, by “decorated” I mean that very personal, powerful, direct statements are written on them.  Some in Spanish.  Some with illustrations.

They say things like, “violence is not just physical.”  They address “you.”  Many of them tell powerful stories.  The display certainly does meet its goal of giving a “voice” to victims of domestic abuse.

And all of them are suspended from clotheslines spanning 3 stories of open stairway.  The same stairways that jurors walk up.  The same stairways that the criminally accused walk up.  The same stairways that I walk up.

I have had enough.

It’s not fair.

It is not fair that purportedly neutral jurors should be subjected to a display that is aimed at essentially telling “us” that “we” do not understand how serious a problem domestic violence is.  “We” don’t get how it is underreported.  “We” don’t get how “abusers” get off easily.

I don’t think it’s fair.  Not sure what to do, I contemplated my options.  Should I subpoena the names of every person who made a shirt?  I mean, I think the confrontation clause would give me a right to ensure none of them are witnesses against my client.  Witnesses should not be able to “talk” to jurors (even indirectly) without my cross examining them, right?

That seemed a little harsh. I mean, getting these shirts taken down should be easy, right?  So, I set out to do things the “easy” way.  At lunch on Thursday, I penned a little letter.  I did something my girlfriend says I need to do more- I talked about my feelings.( click link for copy of letter).  I told them how I felt about the shirts. It was direct. Maybe a little too direct for some people’s taste.  I asked around the courthouse and was told that I should direct it to the Trial Court Administrator.

Friday afternoon, I got a response from the Trial Court Administrator.  Guess what?  The trial court administrator is not in charge of making sure judicially prejudicial stuff isn’t hanging over the stairs.  I guess the county building administrator has that job!  Thankfully, the Trial Court Administrator forwarded my stuff over.

That was Friday.  Guess what was still hanging up today?  Yeah.  The dirty laundry.

Oddly enough, I was contacted by a newspaper reporter today.  I can’t wait to see what their story says.  Should be fun to see where this goes tomorrow!