When I think of local papers who don’t care about actually “reporting” local court news but would rather cut-and-paste from State’s Attorney press releases, I don’t normally think of the Daily Herald. They’re doing everything they can to change that, though. When catching up on my local crime news today, I first came across this article about a man in Geneva who, the paper says, admit to some fairly serious sex crimes and underage porn charges:
I like twitter. It’s fun. Not just fun because you can “interact” with Nancy Grace, but also fun because you can “interact” with Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I like to think he gets as much out of our exchanges as I do. I could be wrong, though.
— Matthew J. Haiduk (@haiduklaw) July 22, 2014
Twitter can can get a little repetitious. Sometimes all you want to do is scroll through and learn if the Iron Sheik would prefer to watch “White Chicks” or “Ghandi” and people are blowing up your timeline with 65 straight tweets about #DanceMoms. Reading all of the repetitious stuff can give a man a fairly distorted view of reality– Especially if you are “subjected” (which I put in quotes because you really don’t have to follow anything on twitter you don’t want to… but I can’t help myself), to the tweets of the “justice system.”
“Justice system” means, of course, police, prosecutors, and those of the rest of them that are just trying to keep the world safe… As opposed to us who are just trying to “get all those guilty people off.” Because all that they want is for the truth to come out. We’re immoral, hired guns, doing whatever our obviously-guilty clients tell us to do. We don’t care about truth, right?
One day I’m flipping through the tweets from one of my favorite prosecutor’s offices and I noticed an unusually high number of convictions getting “tweeted” about. As a tax payer, I suppose I should be grateful for a one-billion-percent conviction rate. Call me ungrateful, then, but I couldn’t help but inquire about the hall-of-fame batting average they were putting up:
They never responded because, well, I’m not worth responding to. So, I let it go. They do their thing, I do mine, and who really cares what happens on Twitter, anyway?
Then a crazy thing happened. Today, while I was doing some work, minding my business, and trying to get pumped I got a text from a friend. Turns out he was not intimidated by the prosecutor’s office lifetime undefeated streak and he went to trial. Apparently, the trial wrapped up, the jury went out and, a short time later, the jury returned a “two word” verdict (HINT: “guilty” is only one word).
Maricela Arciga of Aurora guilty of solicitation of murder and solicitation of murder for hire. Faces minimum 20-year prison sentence. — Kane County SAO (@KaneSAO) July 17, 2014
Immediately I turned to twitter. I was interested to see how their twitter account would deal with the first loss ever in the history of the office. Would there be a link to a press release? Maybe just a 140 character statement? Would they explain this inexplicable verdict? “Congrats to the defendant… the evidence wasn’t there and the system worked.” Would it be like Lou Gehrig, with absolute grace in the face of horrific news?
We’re never going to know.
It’s the unfair fight, again. Police and prosecutors frame the news. We don’t. We win something, and we walk away. We have to. Just like I said in February:
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.
Thankfully I’ve still got Nancy Grace and Sheriff Joe. And, thankfully for them they’ve still got me.
Aurora man guilty of home invasion http://t.co/Zi0ALcCEPQ
— Kane County SAO (@KaneSAO) July 9, 2014
aurora man pleads guilty to sexually assaulting two children. http://t.co/4KL7gm4hBB
— Kane County SAO (@KaneSAO) July 2, 2014
Illinois Appellate Court affirms Kane prison sentence for contempt: http://t.co/68kaNMnQis
— Kane County SAO (@KaneSAO) July 1, 2014
Elgin man guilty in Villa Street gang fight http://t.co/qg9dwYB9I9
— Kane County SAO (@KaneSAO) July 1, 2014
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:
- A school principal from Johnsburg was arrested for sending “offensive” letters (as though it’s illegal to be “offensive”) to parents;
- Because the charges were minor and because nobody would have really known otherwise, the police decided to blab to the media about it;
- 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.
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.
* * *
I didn’t even know who Donald Sterling was until this whole Clippers/mistress/racism thing went down. In case you’re living under a rock (like I typically try to), Donald Sterling is an older-than-dirt, mega-rich, crusty, white dude who also happens to own a pro basketball team that nobody knew existed (except me of course, I still have my Terry Dehere jersey in the closet… seriously) until some guy named Blake Griffin jumped over a car.
At least that’s what Donald Sterling was. Now, he seems to be an exposed racist with a mistress less than half his age and a long history of discriminating against minorities. The general public is outraged at these “revelations.” We’re not going to let this man say these racist things, dammit! I mean, we didn’t have a problem with him doing racist things for the longest time… but now that he actually said it? Now there’s a problem.
To my bitter, sarcastic mind, there’s a problem with our collective thinking on Sterling.
While our dislike of him may be rooted in his racial views (and even actions), the flames of our hatred fan most intensely towards the man because we don’t want to be hypocrites. Sterling was exposed as a racist years ago. Even so, we didn’t know or care enough about the man to pay him any mind. Now, though, we care. We care because everybody knows. Even worse, everybody knows that we know.
When everybody knows that you know that Donald Sterling is racist, you’ve got to be outraged. After all, they know you know he’s racist, and if you’re not as mad as them (or even more mad), then you’re probably racist too, right?
Look, I’m not defending Donald Sterling. He’s clearly a jackass. Crude as that sounds, there’s not a better word for it. The outrage is seemingly overdone, though.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hit the nail squarely on the head with his piece for Time Magazine. If you haven’t read it yet, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Kareem takes a spectacularly rational position, and is as much upset at the general public for blowing the story up as he is at Sterling:
What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair Isn’t just his racism. I’m bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise. Now there’s all this dramatic and very public rending of clothing about whether they should keep their expensive Clippers season tickets. Really? All this other stuff I listed above has been going on for years and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge? That’s the smoking gun?
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:
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.
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 – email@example.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…
“Mr. Mullen took advantage of his friends for his own personal gain by threatening and inflicting violence them,” McMahon said.
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.
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.
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
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:
South elgin woman guilty of false child abuse report: http://t.co/NUnei43I9v
— Kane County SAO (@KaneSAO) December 6, 2013
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.
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.
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.