If you have ever heard someone in central Illinois complain about the State dismissing a criminal complaint against them and then still seizing their property on basis that the property was illegally obtained – believe them.  It happens, or it used to happen, with some regularity before the law was changed.  As of July 1 of this year hopefully this scenario will be a far less common occurrence.

One of the biggest changes is that the new law does away with cost bonds.  Prior to this change, in order to assert and preserve an interest in the seized property, individuals had to come up with a 10% cost bond.  This meant that in addition to (potentially) having to bond themselves out and find and hire an attorney, our clients were also having to come up with additional funds to preserve their right to their own money which the State may or may not have rightfully taken.  Obviously, this was even more of a burden if our clients could not afford to bond themselves out or lost their employment due to their temporary pre-trial incarceration.  Under the new law, no more.  You file your claim and answer and that is sufficient to assert your interest.  Additionally, the new law precludes the seizure of small amounts of currency, less than $500.00, in drug cases and less than $100.00 in all other cases.  And property may no longer be seized in a case when less than 2 “single unit doses” of a controlled substance are the source of the felony offense.  Finally, the burden is on the State to obtain a forfeiture when there is a not guilty verdict or no information/indictment are filed has been raised to clear an convincing evidence.

The new statute also codifies the 8th Amendment to the United States’ Constitution in that the Illinois Legislature has added that any forfeiture under the new law is subject to the “disproportionate penalties analysis” as provided in Section 9.5 of the Drug Asset Forfeiture Procedure Act.

Illinois has finally (effective January 1, 2018) reformed its law regarding the setting of bail in criminal cases.  The goal of this reform is to curtail the practice of holding defendants in custody for lengthy periods of time simply because they cannot afford to come up with the money to pay for their pre-trial release.  But what does this mean for individuals charged with a crime central Illinois who are seeking pre-trial release?  And how can an experienced lawyer help?

Having an experience attorney from the outset of your criminal case allows a defendant to begin presenting the defense of himself/herself from the very initial appearance.  An experienced criminal defense lawyer will be able to help the client navigate the bail/bond system and present the most important information to the court so that the most favorable bail conditions can be set from the beginning.

As an initial matter, when examining the new bail statute in Illinois, it is important to note that the legislature has divided offenses into two categories.  The list of Category A Offenses is lengthy and consists of Class X, Class 1, and Class 2 felonies as well as some Class 3 and 4 felonies as specifically outlined in the statute.  Category B Offenses include: business offenses, petty offenses, Class A, B, and C misdemeanors, and Class 3 and 4 felonies unless otherwise specified by the statute.  Regardless of whether an individual falls into Category A or Category B, the statute directs that there is a presumption that bail conditions shall be non-monetary and that the court shall impose the least restrictive conditions or combination of conditions to protect the integrity of the proceedings.  The statute also provides that if an individual is unable to obtain counsel for the initial appearance, a public defender or licensed attorney shall be appointed to represent the arrested individual.  This means that every individual will be given an opportunity to present their case for pre-trial release to the judge, through an attorney, from the very first time they appear in court instead of having to wait weeks or months as was previously the case.

Criminal justice reform is a hot topic of late, and thankfully, the Illinois legislature has finally come to the conclusion that if you truly want an individual to be able to fully rehabilitate and re-integrate into society, you have to give them a chance to ‘restore their good name.’  With the passage of HB 2373 which became effective on January 1, 2017, the Illinois legislature cleared the way for individuals with felony convictions to be able to expunge certain felony records.  The full text of the statute can be found at 20 ILCS 2630/5.2, but we will attempt to distill it down to its main points here.

Generally, the law regarding the sealing of felony convictions mirrors the law for sealing misdemeanor convictions which means that all felony convictions, can be sealed except: domestic battery, battery or aggravated battery to an unborn child, violations of orders of protection, DUI, reckless and aggravated reckless driving, sex crimes, committing or attempting to commit crimes that would require registration on the sex offender registry, and crimes against animals under the Humane Care for Animals Act.

However, it is important that the individual seeking to have their records sealed be sure that they are ready to live a life on the straight and narrow because once an individual exercises his/her right to seal convictions under this law, no subsequent felony convictions can be sealed.  Moreover, if a new felony conviction is committed after the sealing of previous records, the court can unseal all previously sealed records.

DUI is one of the most common criminal offenses we see.  DUI arrest knows no socio-economic boundaries and can have a serious impact on the life of those who are found to guilty.  In fact, even if the individual is not guilty of the crime the suspension of his/her license can still occur and may be more of a punishment than a conviction for the DUI itself would have been.  Having an experienced attorney is crucial to your ability to successfully defend your case.

But what types of behaviors subject an individual to potential DUI liability?

The Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/11-501) directs that a person shall not drive or be in actual physical control of a vehicle in the following seven (7) circumstances:

We are criminal defense attorneys and DUI lawyers located in Springfield, Illinois and serve clients all over central Illinois.  Frequently we have clients who have never needed the services of an attorney before or who feel that they have been under-served by an attorney they have had in the past.  Hiring an attorney is one of the most important first steps any client makes in defending against charges brought against them, whether the charges are simple traffic violations or more serious felony or DUI charges.  To that end, we’d like to share with you our thoughts about what to look for, and what to expect, when hiring a lawyer to defend you against criminal charges:

  1. You should hire a lawyer you feel comfortable talking with.  Our ability to obtain the result you seek depends on many things, but one of the most important is communication.  If you do not feel that you can openly communicate with us, then it will be much more difficult for us to effectively help you.  We need you to communicate with us about your case: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  We need for you to communicate with us about what resolution you want to seek for your case.  We need you to communicate with us about how potential resolutions might affect your employment, education, or home life.  We need you to communicate with us if you believe there is evidence that will help you but that the State has not gathered.  No one knows your case better than you—and we cannot begin to know your case as well as you do unless you tell us everything you know about your case.
  2. We work for the client and not for the person who may be paying the bills.  This is an important point.  We understand that our clients often have family members and friends who help pay their legal fees.  However, it is important for those family members and friends to understand that it is ultimately the client who we are working for, and thus our client calls the shots with regard to how his or her case gets resolved.

Sex offenses.  A conviction for these types of crimes is perhaps the most life altering of any conviction (felony or misdemeanor).  Our clients who have been charged with sex crimes deal not only with the stigma of labels like “sex offender” “sexual predator” “rapist”, but also with the enduring label of a sex offender registry.  Typically, if a person is convicted of a crime, he or she may progress through a few labels—from “defendant” to “probationer” or “inmate” and then “parolee.”  Once the sentence has been served, however, the worst label they have left to deal with is “felon.”  Being labeled a felon is certainly negative, and has serious consequences on the kinds of jobs individuals can apply for  and the kinds of employers who are willing to hire them.  But being labeled a felon usually does not prevent individuals from being able to live in certain neighborhoods or with their own children.

Not so for those convicted of sex crimes.  The most harrowing part of a sex crime conviction is the registry period after release from DOC or the plea (if probation is given or it is a time-served disposition).  Not only does being on the registry subject its registrants to public shaming, much like wearing a scarlet letter, but it limits where they can live, who they can live with, and where they can work (assuming that they can find an employer willing to hire them).  Frustratingly, there is little evidence that the registry requirement reduces sex crimes or lessens an offender’s likelihood to re-offend.   However, the State has decided that such seemingly-punitive measures must be imposed on all individuals who have been convicted of a sex related crime.*  One of the problems is that many individuals who find themselves subject to the registry are not actually dangerous criminals lurking in dark alleys waiting for their next victim.  In fact, we find that frequently individuals who find themselves subject to the sex offender registry are subject because of serious lapses in judgment as opposed to violent or deviant sexual behavior.

As a society, we have found it easy to target individuals who have committed sex offenses with punitive measures because it can be hard to find the redeeming qualities in someone who would abuse or assault another person sexually.  That reaction is natural.  However, the blanket approach that our legislature has taken to all sex offenders everywhere does a disservice to those who have committed sex offenses, not because they are dangerous criminals but because they are human beings who made a poor choice, as well citizens who are just wanting to be protected from those who would commit such and offense.  The latter group, citizens wanting to be protected from individuals who are sexually deviant, are ill-served by the blanket approach because all they see is the label “sex offender” and are, therefore, concerned about every individual on the list as opposed to just those who might actually have violent sexual tendencies.  Those who are required to be on the list are not served because: (1) they are prevented from ever fully re-entering society because of the scarlet letter attached to their name; (2) their housing options become limited; (3) time with their own children (when their offense had nothing to do with children) is limited or terminated altogether; and (4) their job prospects are limited.  A great deal of hardship thus results from the registry requirement, making it seem quite punitive to those affected by it—even though the registry requirement has been determined to be “remedial” by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Given the recent termination of the DACA program, it is understandable that even lawful non-citizens living in our country may be concerned about the security of their residency right now.  If this is you, or you are concerned about your immigration status, hire an immigration attorney, and please educate yourself about what to do if ICE knocks on your door.  Make sure that they have a warrant signed by a judge and that the warrant lists a specific person at that residence.  Do not lie or present false documents if they force their way into your home.

If you or a loved one are a lawful non-citizen and find yourself charged with a crime, a good criminal defense lawyer is essential.  The implications of a criminal conviction, even for a misdemeanor, even if the client is given supervision, can be catastrophic if the person looses their right to legally reside in our country.  The laws regarding the loss of legal status were in place even before DACA was terminated.  However, the concern is that some prosecutors may not realize the devastation a criminal conviction of any kind, no matter how minor, may have on a legal non-citizen’s status in or country.  And there is always a concern that law enforcement may see an individual’s status as immigrant (or legal non-citizen) as permission to target those whom they believe do not have citizenship rights.  If you are facing criminal prosecution and have not obtained citizenship in this country, please make sure your criminal defense attorney knows this very important fact.  There are sometimes ways we can help you avoid the very serious consequence of losing residency, but we cannot help if we do not know there is an issue.  It is also important to understand that possible resolutions for your case may depend on whether you have a visa or a green card and that sometimes the outcomes for those two types of cases do not make logical sense.  Do not assume that because you have a green card your residency is more secure than if you have a visa or vice versa.  It is also important to let your criminal defense lawyer know if you are not a lawful citizen of our country as a criminal conviction may adversely affect your ability to later apply for legal residency in our country.  Again, your attorney cannot help you if he/she does not know all of the issues.

There are States, Illinois among them, who have sued the Federal Government over the cancellation of the DACA program.  The basis of this lawsuit is that the program was ended for discriminatory purposes.  How that will ultimately be resolved and whether Congress will pass legislation making it a non-issue is yet to be seen.  The best way to protect yourself in this situation is again to know your rights.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is the source of some of the most important rights American citizens possess.  In fact, the United States Supreme Court has been very generous in its interpretation of the First Amendment and erred on the side of giving citizens as much right to freedom of expression as possible.  In the current political climate, there is lots of talk about free speech and what the First Amendment protects.

The attorneys in our firm are dedicated to the protection of our client’s First Amendment rights and have appealed orders for contempt when the court has held our clients in contempt for exercising their right to freedom expression.  You can review In re: Marriage of Weddigen, which was briefed and argued by yours truly, to see an example of this.  In Weddigen, the trial court held Mr. Weddigen in contempt of court for making posts on Facebook encouraging people to record their court proceedings.  Not only did the trial court hold Mr. Weddigen in contempt, but it also ordered that Mr. Weddigen could purge himself of contempt by writing an apology and retraction of the statements and posting it to social media.  The appellate court reversed the trial court’s finding of contempt on grounds other than the First Amendment, however, the trial court’s rulings provoked a heated concurrence from Justice Steigman that attracted the attention of multiple legal newsletters, the Illinois Bar Journal, and even the Washington Post.  In his concurrence, Steigman admonished the trial court that the judiciary cannot be “delicate snowflakes” and reminded the trial judge that even though he did not like the things Mr. Weddigen had to say about him, the First Amendment protected Mr. Weddigen’s right to say them.  Justice Steigman reiterated that the First Amendment is the “crown jewel” of our constitution and that “even imminent danger cannot justify restrictions on speech unless the evil apprehended is relatively serious.”

Our appellate courts–both state and federal–have consistently interpreted the First Amendment as forbidding our government, at all levels and in all branches, from unjustifiably restricting our rights to speak our mind freely.  And it is this fact, the fact that we as American citizens have almost carte blanche with respect to expression, that makes the acts of certain hate groups in this country so appalling.  The First Amendment protects their right to say and believe heinous things, even if their heinous beliefs have no basis in fact or reality.  Of course, this does not mean that it is good, just, or wise to do so.  And when hateful words are combined with harmful actions–or even acts that threaten imminent harm–the First Amendment provides no shelter from prosecution.  It is sometimes said that one person’s liberty ends where another’s nose begins; in other words, our rights, great as they are, stop where they threaten the safety of our neighbors.

The drug addiction epidemic is one of the biggest health problems our country is facing.  As criminal defense lawyers, we have a front row view of how this epidemic is affecting the community here in Sangamon County, Morgan County, Montgomery County, Macon County, Menard County and all of the surrounding area.  People–our neighbors, friends, colleagues, siblings, cousins, parents, children–are dying or surrendering large portions of their lives to drug addiction every day.  And while politicians wrangle and posture about whether a drug addiction is an actual illness that should be covered by health insurance (it is and should be), and how much marijuana someone has to have on their person before it becomes a felony (why should it ever be?), old, punitive laws remain on the books, and insufficient funds are directed to treatment facilities and programs for those affected by this epidemic.  For our clients, this typically means that they have committed some illegal act in furtherance of their addiction or because they are actually under the influence at the time of the crime, and are looking at the very real possibility of an extended stay in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Shipping people with a drug or alcohol addiction to the Department of Corrections, in addition to being costly, does not solve the problem.  Labeling someone with a drug or alcohol addiction as a “felon” and making it that much harder to find employment and move forward with their lives upon their release does not help cure their illness, and in fact can make it worse.

Frequently, part of a criminal defense attorney’s job is to get everyone on board with what the best treatment alternatives are for the client.  And by everyone, we mean everyone: the State’s Attorney, the judge, the parents, the spouse, the children, and (most importantly) the client himself.  If the client is in Sangamon County, this can mean a sentence to Drug Court.  It can mean a sentence to TASC Probation, First Offender Probation, or Second Chance Probation.  It can mean an agreement that the client will engage in intensive drug counseling as part of another disposition.

Traffic tickets.  Almost all of us have been pulled over at one time or another for some alleged traffic violation and ended up with a traffic ticket.  For some people, what starts as a routine stop for a minor traffic violation ends up becoming an arrest for a more serious violation, such as DUI, drug charges, or gun/weapon possession offenses.

It is important to know your rights if you are pulled over for any alleged traffic violation.  To that end, we have compiled a list of 10 things you should know if you are stopped by the police in central Illinois.  In addition to this list, you can also review the instructional video produced by the FBI Field Office for the Springfield, Illinois Division regarding how to conduct yourself during a traffic stop.

10 Things You Should Know: