Dog Searches Are As Accurate as We Say They Are.

Anybody who has driven from the Geneva/St. Charles area west to DeKalb has seen the billboards for Bradley Olsen.  I see it all the time on my way to the various courthouses and, although I don’t know anything about Mr. Olsen or his disappearance, I do have a passing interest in the case.  No only for my own “I wonder what happened” curiosity, but also because “solving” missing persons cases is often messy and can lead to arrests based on compromised or not-very-reliable evidence.

If you don’t think so, read up on the Mario Casciaro case in McHenry County.  After several years of investigation the government struck a deal with a man (with a lengthy criminal history) who likely threw the death blow in order to convict another man (who, apparently, did not throw a fatal blow or have a similar history) on an “intimidation” theory.  The conviction has caused such a mess that 20/20 has been interviewing people and may be running a story on the case.

Anyhow, the Olsen case is back in the Kane County Chronicle because the investigation into his disappearance is entering its 7th year.  The police continue to follow up on leads and have done several searches when new evidence warrants it:

Police insist that Bradley Olsen’s disappearance is not a cold case. The active investigation involves K-9 searches about three to five times a year. Any time police receive a tip of someone saying they think Bradley Olsen was buried in a certain location or seen in another location, they check it out.
DeKalb police detective Lt. Bob Redel, now the lead investigator on the case, has been involved since the beginning. He believes Bradley Olsen is dead and wants to know how he might have died. There are many people of interest in the case, though Redel declined to specify how many there are and why they are designated as such.
“We need the right person to call us that either saw something or heard something that’s going to lead us to where Brad’s at,” Redel said.

Of course the “right person” is likely someone personally involved in Mr. Olsen’s disappearance who’s screwed up so bad in some other way that he’s willing to possibly incriminate himself on the Olsen case to walk on the new one.

That’s not the part that caught my eye, though.  The part that caught my eye was the comment about using canines to search, and about their accuracy:

In more recent years, police have not found evidence when dogs have searched different areas in the county. Sometimes a dog alerts police to something that may be a clue, but it turns out to be nothing.
“Dogs aren’t perfect,” Redel said.

I read the “sometimes a dog alerts police to something that may be a clue, but it turns out to be nothing.  Dogs aren’t perfect…” and chuckled. Why? Because it’s true. And honest. And likely something you’d never get a cop on the stand to admit to if you were cross examining him in a drug case.

Because, when it comes to dogs searching for drugs, humans, or other contraband in a criminal case, “there is no such thing as a false alert”:

(watch it until the end… seriously)

Nevertheless, hopefully Mr. Olsen’s family will have closure soon and the State’s Attorney’s Office, DeKalb and Maple Park police departments won’t have built a case on unreliable evidence.

Why Do Cops Let People Drive Drunk?

You know how drunk drivers are a danger?  They cause accidents?  You know how they kill people?  You know how we can’t tolerate having impaired drivers on the road?  You know how we are so gung-ho on punishing DUI that we won’t even tolerate a drunk driver pulling off the road to “sleep it off”?

Maybe none of that is true. Maybe it’s ok to let a drunk drive for a little bit. Or maybe keeping drunks off the road isn’t really as important as letting drunks on the road so we can then take them off the road and look like we’re doing some sort of good work.  I don’t know.

I do know that last week I was watching a hearing on a DUI case up in good, old Woodstock, Illinois, McHenry County, U.S.A.  From what I gathered (I missed a part), a cop was outside a bar late one night watching patrons as they leave. Nothing illegal about that- it seems that that’s the sort of place drunk drivers might be coming from.  Good policing there.

Our hero watched a man leave the bar and cross the street. Apparently the man stumbled or fell… his movement was so obviously impaired by what was likely alcohol that the officer moved his car around to get a better view of where the guy was going.  From the second spot, the officer watched the man get in the car and start it all up.

Then the officer did exactly what you’d expect him to do… Nothing.  Once the man started the car and drove away, the officer followed.  Of course, the man who couldn’t walk couldn’t drive either and, after watching him swerve all over the road the officer pulled him over and ended up arresting him for DUI.

Good police work you say?  I don’t know.

Can’t a drunk driver kill somebody in a blink of an eye? Isn’t no distance the acceptable distance for an impaired driver to drive?  Or, is there some magic rule that a drunk driver can’t plow into an innocent family as long as a cop is watching?  Shouldn’t DUI prevention actually mean prevention regardless of who is watching?  Safety is safety, right?

I know what you’re saying- this is America and a cop can’t tell the dude he’s not allowed to drive.  I agree with that. But, this is also America and a cop can walk up to a drunk man, tell him that if he drives he’s going to get pulled over before he gets out of the parking lot, and strongly suggest the man call a friend or a cab.  If cops can talk people into confessing to murder (even murders they never commit) can’t they talk people out of driving?  Maybe my way is just silly.

My way doesn’t risk a drunk man on the street possibly killing somebody, though.  My way doesn’t leave open the possibility of a high-speed pursuit with a drunk man at the wheel. My way also doesn’t net anybody an arrest or another smiley face on the record from AAIM.

My way keeps the streets safer, though.  Isn’t that really what’s most important?

McHenry County might have the most inefficient system for DUI cases anywhere ever.

It might be impossible to come up with a less efficient way to handle DUI than they do in Woodstock.  Seriously.  I can’t think of one… and I’ve seen cases go through the system in a lot of counties aside from McHenry County.

Imagine, if you will, that you got a DUI.  Of course, it’s going to be the last DUI you get because every time somebody gets a DUI it’s always their last.  There are actually two parts to your case… the criminal DUI charges and the suspension of your license (why they are separate is another story, but that’s beyond the control of the courts).

You’re “actually innocent” so you want to challenge the license suspension and get a date set for a trial as soon as possible… because you want this thing out of your life.  So, you file the paperwork to challenge the license suspension before your first court date.  What would happen in an efficient system?

In places like Cook County or DuPage County you show up on that date and they will, most likely, have a hearing on the license suspension right there. You may even get to have a trial depending on what kind of trial you’d like.  In places like Kane County, they are going to take your DUI file, set the case over on a Friday- because that’s when they do all the license cases- and you will likely have a court date set even quicker than the one the police gave you for the DUI.

In McHenry County, though?  The first thing that will happen in McHenry County is that they will make a special file just for your license suspension.  Then the clerk will set that file on a special court date where your DUI criminal case won’t even be up in court.  Your DUI court date will likely be the following week (or the one after that).

Why do they make an extra file in McHenry County, and then give you an extra date when your DUI isn’t even scheduled?  Because, in the likely event that you will demand a jury trial on your DUI case before your license suspension is decided, they will assign the criminal file to a different judge on a different floor on a different day of the week… meaning it’s not uncommon for somebody to have to go to court in Woodstock on two different days in two different courtrooms in the same week, for the same DUI arrest.

You know why they do that?  

I don’t. I have no clue. It makes no sense.

Remember that the next time you hear somebody whining about how defendant’s drag stuff along and clog up the system. Maybe the system is clogging itself. It sure is in McHenry County

That Cary Shaken Baby Case, And How Prison Time is Calculated.

Alvin Santiago had been facing charges of shaking a baby in his care while in Cary, Illinois. Today, Judge Prather sentenced him to 9 years in prison.  The Northwest Herald has a great article on today’s sentencing hearing:

Judge orders 9 years for Cary man in shaken baby case

Published: Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 5:24 p.m. CST


WOODSTOCK – Outside the courtroom, James Greve said he wished his daughter’s former caregiver had been given the same sentence the baby had.

Alvin D. Santiago, 30, on Thursday was sentenced to nine years in prison for shaking Tegan Greve so violently that she required brain surgery. The child was 2 months old at the time.

With day-for-day credit, Santiago will serve about four and a half years behind bars.

But for baby Tegan, it will be at least five more years of doctors visits, medical tests and medication. Even then, James Greve said, whether or not she’ll fully recover remains unknown.

“He got a lesser sentence than my daughter,” he said after an emotional sentencing hearing that included statements from he and wife, Rachel Greve, and tearful testimony from Santiago and his family members.


The article goes on to talk in more detail about the crime as well as the hearing in court.  The part that catches my attention is the focus on the actual amount of time Santiago will spend in prison.  It’s speculated to be around four and a half years.

I say “speculated” because nobody actually knows how long it will be at this point.  It will likely be no less than 4.5 years and will absolutely be no more than 9 years.  Essentially, actual prison time in Illinois gets computed as follows:

  • Most cases are subject to some sort of reduction in time for “good behavior.”  Some are not (like, for example, murder, where there is no good time allowance).  The majority of felonies are “50% cases”, meaning that you may receive a reduction in your sentence up to 50% of the total time.
  • Without getting too technical, it’s also possible to “earn” extra time off.  Some of that extra time is “earned” without any effort- typically 6 months worth.  You might also get an extra break for doing something like earning a G.E.D.

So, typically, its safe to say that on a “garden variety” felony, a person who takes a 5 year sentence will have a minimum sentence of 2 years (5 years multiplied by 50%, and then minus 6 months), and a person sentenced to 9 years will have a minimum sentence of 4.5 months.

Now you’re wondering why somebody could be out in 4.5 years for shaking a baby when they’re sentenced to 9 years?  How is that justice, right?  Especially when the reality is that the overwhelming majority of defendants serve the minimum.

Have you ever been inside a jail or prison?  No?  Have you ever seen an episode of “Locked up”?

If you have, you know that taking an entire population of “criminals” and keeping them from causing trouble isn’t easy.  Some guy is throwing poop and clogging the toilet in the prison.  What are you going to do, put him in segregation?

Fine. Now he’s painting the walls in segregation with poop, and 35 guys in the general population are protesting the first guy’s getting put “in the hole” by urinating on the floor.  Plus, 6 guys got in a fist fight after somebody changed the TV channel in the middle of a great episode of Miami Vice.

What are you going to do now? Put them all in segregation?  Sounds great, but you don’t have the space. The taxpayers want to be tough on crime, but don’t want to pay to be tough on crime- so you don’t have the facilities.

That’s where good time comes in.  The facility has the option to yank some good time and effectively lengthen the sentence.  There’s no judge, no jury and no defense attorney to get in the way (although there typically are some internal jail procedures).  Go ahead… throw that poop. It’s going to cause you 8 more months of prison living.  Is it worth it?

This is exactly what happened to Stevie Fielding.  He got a sentence of 10 years and his jailhouse antics caused him to serve every last day.

Stevie Trailer from Steve James on Vimeo.

If reduced prison sentences are a way to give prisons the opportunity to keep peace and enforce prison policy, then why are most people only serving the minimum?  Why aren’t more people losing good time?

Because the incentive system in prison generally works well.  Being able to lengthen somebody’s prison sentence will typically keep them in line.  The public might not like it, but it gets the job done.

There’s another reason why, too.  Try following the money.

Like I already said, you want to lock people up, but you don’t want to pay for adequate facilities.  There is a lot of pressure on the system to get folks “out” in order to make way for the others coming in.  Plus, there are other enforcement tools- prisoners can lose all sorts of privileges.

So, why would a prison lengthen somebody’s sentence and make its financial situation even more dire when it may be able to achieve the same result by taking away a man’s Fritos and locking him in a room without a TV?  It wouldn’t.

Judge Prather gave Alvin Santiago 9 years in prison today. He might serve 4.5. He might serve 9.  It depends on whether or not he behaves himself, and whether or not you’re willing to put more money into a system you don’t want to put money into.

Late to the party.

The process of going from being a “regular” person to being “accused” is an interesting one.  If you’re charged with a felony, it usually means you were charged with a criminal complaint and later either a judge (at a preliminary hearing) or grand jury (by an indictment) found there was probable cause to charge you.  People are typically charged with crimes as soon as the police and state’s attorney’s office think they have enough evidence against you- usually the same day or shortly thereafter.

Sometimes, though, the charges come months or even years later. That’s what just happened in Woodstock with the deaths of Gloria and Nick Romano:

Son charged with 2006 slaying of parents

Published: Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 12:58 p.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 11:12 p.m. CST
More than seven years after they were found shot to death in their McHenry County home, the son of Gloria and Nick Romano has been charged with killing them.
Michael W. Romano, 54, was arrested Tuesday in Las Vegas, charged with first-degree murder in his parents’ 2006 double homicide.

So, you ask, why did it take so long?  You know they’re not going to sit on a murder charge for no reason.  They’re going to charge this sort of thing as soon as they can.  Especially because he was a suspect the entire time:

Police long have suspected Michael Romano. Formerly of Algonquin, he left the area shortly after his parents’ death and was working as a cab driver in Las Vegas, sheriff’s police said.
As the 2006 investigation progressed, Michael Romano stopped cooperating with detectives and would only speak with them through an attorney, according to Northwest Herald reports from the time.
It’s unclear what new evidence, if any, connects Michael Romano to the killings. McHenry County State’s Attorney Criminal Division Chief Michael Combs would not comment on the investigation.

That last paragraph hits the nail on the head.  “It’s unclear what new evidence, if any…”  These media people have to say this sort of thing because they’re not supposed to speculate.  I’ll speculate, though.

In my experience there’s almost always new evidence with these late charges.  Typically, charges coming after a long delay occur because either an informant came forward, or there’s new lab/scientific evidence purportedly linking the accused to the crime.  Lab/scientific evidence can be delayed because new techniques or tests were developed to analyze existing evidence in a different way (like is happening with all of the exonerations in the pre-DNA cases).

Informants, though?  Why do they wait?  Why would that sort of information take so long to come out?

It’s not usually because some upstanding citizen has a change of heart six years later– your average “upstanding citizen” is going give the police any and all information he can on an unsolved crime as soon as he can.

It’s what you and the police may call an “informant”, many of us refer to as a jailhouse snitch.  Those guys don’t want to talk to anybody about anything. Then they get themselves in trouble and need a quick way out.  They start to talk.  It’s just like when I wrote about the Lance Armstrong doping fiasco.  People who don’t want to talk will often talk when given the right “incentive”. It can take time for that incentive to form (meaning, it takes time for them to get arrested on their own serious charges first).

Sometimes they give the authorities truthful information in an effort to help themselves. Other times they don’t have truthful information, but they tell whatever story they think might be helpful.

I don’t know anything about the Romano case other than what I’ve read in the paper.  I’d hazard a guess that there’s new information- probably from an informant.  We’ll know soon enough.