A New Way to Check for Cook County Warrants

 

Cook County Sheriff's Criminal Warrant Search

This weekend, someone e-mailed me with a question about a misdemeanor case that he had in Cook County a few years ago.  This person stopped going to court, and recently learned that there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest.  He wanted to know what could be done to resolve the situation.

Up until a few months ago, I would not have been able to tell him too much, until I went to the courthouse and reviewed the court file.  Now, however, thanks to Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart, you or I can go to the Sheriff’s website and get information instantly.

The Sheriff’s new criminal warrant search allows you to check for an outstanding warrant.  The site will provide you with information about the warrant, most importantly, the amount of the bond that has been set.  Assuming a D bond has been set, ten percent of the bond amount will be required to be deposited in order to bond out.

The site also provides other information, including the reason for the warrant and the date it was issued.

There is also a link for child support warrants as well.

So, after a quick check of the Sheriff’s website, I was able to get back to the potential client armed with detailed knowledge about his case and the status of the warrant.

This is an excellent use of technology — it makes life much easier for defendants, victims, their families, and attorneys.  It also frees up court clerks and sheriff’s employees from having to pull files or answer phone calls about warrants.

Good job, Tom Dart!

More on the bill to allow citizens to video police

Rep. Elaine Nekritz

It only took them a few days, but the Chicago Tribune has caught up with this blog.  They have a story about HB3944, proposed by Representative Elaine Nekritz, which would amend the Illinois Eavesdropping statute to allow citizens to video record police officers on duty.

The Tribune quotes Representative Nekritz as saying:  “I believe that the existing statute is a significant intrusion into First Amendment rights, so with the prosecutions and the court cases that have been reported about, it just seemed that this is a problem in need of a swift solution.”

The article goes on to state:

Officials with the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago have said the union backs the current law because it prevents people from making baseless accusations against officers by recording them and then releasing snippets that don’t reveal the full context of the incident.

But Nekritz — whose proposed legislation, HB 3944, also would allow a person to record a phone conversation with a business if the business says it may record the call — said police officers working in public should not consider their actions private.

 

Here is a link to the full text of HB3944.

Did Chicago Police try to cover up a DUI fatality case?

Officer Richard Bolling (picture by Terrance James, Chicago Tribune)

The Chicago newspapers have been reporting on the ongoing trial of Chicago Police Officer Richard Bolling, who is accused of being drunk behind the wheel (while off-duty) when he hit and killed 13 year old Trenton Booker.

The Chicago Tribune story is here; the Chicago Sun-Times story is here.

According to reports, Chicago police officers allowed Officer Bolling to leave the scene during their investigation to use a bathroom, they did not conduct field sobriety tests for several hours, appeared to have graded those tests on a curve (they wrote that he had passed the walk and turn test despite the arrest videos shows him exhibiting at least three clues of impairment which is considered a “failure” according to NHTSA), and waiting even longer to give him a breath test. When he finally took a breath test, he was 0.079, just barely under the legal limit.

The implication is clear — that had Officer Bolling taken a breath test a few hours earlier, he would have been over the legal limit (a good rule of thumb is that people’s BAC drop about 0.01 an hour, after they have reached their peak level of intoxication).

It does not seem that Officer Bolling was falling down drunk; instead, it appears it was a borderline case of someone who may have been impaired. He certainly did not help his case that he acted callously and indifferently as a teenaged victim lay dying (Officer Bolling was recorded joking about the officers eating his White Castle burgers that were in his car, and sounding upset about the damage to his car as officers investigated the crash). It was reported that it was recorded on tape that a superior officer told Bolling that they would try to do everything they could to help him out.

Had Chicago Police acted with more concern for the victim than for their fellow officer, they might have made a much stronger case for conviction than there appears to be here.

This week, I got a big assist from arrest videos

In the past few days, I have had three DUI cases that resulted in either a not guilty or a summary suspension rescinded for lack of reasonable grounds to arrest.

One in Chicago, one in Skokie and the third in Bridgeview.

All three cases involved State Troopers.

I should point out that State Police cases are often the hardest cases to beat because the Troopers are better trained, have better equipment (like Portable Breath Tests and dash cam videos) and they make better witnesses than your average local cop.  They even look better — they stay in shape and I don’t think I have ever seen a State Trooper with an unpressed shirt or unshined shoes.

In all three cases there were squad car videos.

This last fact made all the difference.

Did I do a nice cross-examination of the Troopers?  Sure.  But then again, the State’s Attorney’s did nice direct examinations of the Troopers too.  All three State’s Attorneys did as well as they possibly could have.

And the judges were not novices — they probably had over 80 years combined legal experience.

But ultimately, what swayed the three judges was the fact that the defendants in the videos didn’t look intoxicated.  Not at all.  No swaying, no stumbling, no confusion, no crying, no anger, no slurred speech.  All three submitted to field sobriety testing and looked perfectly normal, even though the Troopers claimed that they failed.

When I get that type of video, I start to look like Clarence Darrow.

Without the video, I might have still have won all three cases, but who knows?  The videos sure helped.

I should point out that videos do not always help the defense.  This week, I also obtained a couple of arrest videos that will lead me to strongly suggest to my clients that they should consider pursuing a plea bargain.

So, again, I want to thank the Illinois Supreme Court for their recent ruling that arrest videos are now required to be turned over to the defense, even in misdemeanor cases.

Illinois House moves to allow citizens to video police

Representative Elaine Nekritz has introduced legislation (HB3944) that would amend the Illinois Eavesdropping statute to allow citizens to record a peace officer who is performing a public duty in a public place and speaking at a volume audible to the unassisted human ear.

This would be a major change to the current law that makes it a class 1 felony, punishable from four to fifteen years in prison, to record a police officer in the course of his duties.

We can follow the bill’s status here.

For once, I must applaud our state reps.  Lets hope it passes and the police lobbyists don’t scuttle this important bill.

Is this DUI Public Service Announcement Effective?

I found this this PSA amusing enough to hold my interest, while at the same time effective in emphasizing the consequences associated with a DUI arrest, including not only costs associated with bail, impoundment, legal fees, fines and alcohol treatment, but also time missed from work for court appearances and community service (or jail!).  It also avoids the cliches of DUI PSAs such as the aftermath of an accident and showing a driver behind bars.

On the other hand, there is a reason for those cliches:  they are memorable and effective.

What do you think?

A Smoking Gun: Police Department had written DUI Quota Policy

The Howard County, MD Police Dept. internal memo

The Howard County, MD Police Dept. internal memo

Since I have started this blog, I have occasionally stated that certain police officers have “DUI on the brain.”  What I mean by this is that many officers have become accustomed to treating all sorts of innocent actions as signs of intoxication when handling traffic stops.

For example, we saw this in TLC’s D.U.I. show when an officer said something like “when someone starts making excuses for why they aren’t doing well on the field tests, I know that they are DUI.”  (So if you have a physical ailment you have to pick your poison — either you can choose to get scoffed by the cop when you tell him why you can’t do the field tests; or keep quiet and instead have the prosecutor accuse you of making it up when you attempt to explain your injuries to the judge.)

It sometimes seems like many officers want to turn every routine traffic stop into a DUI investigation.

I have also repeatedly stated that DUIs are big money-makers for police departments and local governments.

Well, this week it was revealed that the Howard County, MD police department has an official policy that officers should have “DUI on the brain” and be constantly looking to rack up as many DUI arrests as possible.  Their officers were given quotas that 2-4 citations must be made each hour!  Officers were told that “you need to stop as many vehicles as possible, looking to make a DUI Arrest.  Your overtime is being paid to look for DUI’s, not to handle motorist assist, routine backup for patrol officers, etc.

In other words, these officers were told that it was their department’s policy for them to stop as many cars as possible, using whatever pretext they could come up with, so that they could “further investigate” in hopes of having some shreds of evidence to support a DUI arrest.  The officers were warned that this was needed because a greater number of arrests would equal greater federal grant money (which would be used for purposes including officers overtime pay).  Implied, but not explicitly stated was that officers who did not meet the quota would have a problem remaining employed with the Department when they were up for review.

It is very interesting how certain suspicions that I have long held, and written about on this blog, have suddenly come out in the open (like how Jody Weis confirmed that Chicago cops were turning off their squad dash cameras).  I wonder what will come out next?

Illinois Supreme Court Upholds Vehicle Forfeitures for Aggravated DUIs and Driving While Revoked

Vehicle forfeitures have become an increasingly popular way for our legislature to be “tough on crime” while at the same time raise additional revenues without raising taxes.  What’s not to like?  So long as you are a State rep and not a family member of someone charged with an aggravated DUI or driving while revoked (DWLR).

Last week, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld a constitutional challenge to the Illinois Vehicle Forfeiture law.   Here is a link to the case: People v. One 1998 GMC, et. al., 2011 IL 110236.

The challenge alleged that the statute was defective because it did not provide for a fast, preliminary hearing to determine whether there was probable cause to hold the vehicle pending trial.  In dismissing the challenge, the court noted that the statute has been recently amended to require such a preliminary hearing within 14 days of the seizure.  720 ILCS 5/36-1.5.

More disconcerting, the Court also stated the following:  “The seizures in the cases before us occurred simultaneously with the aggravated DUI and DWLR arrests for which the police must have probable cause. This probable cause determination is made by trained police officers without a personal economic stake in the matter. Their evaluations are not the type prone to error.”  2011 IL 110236, par 68 (Emphasis added).

It is hard for me as a defense attorney to fathom this comment.  Police officers regularly misevaluate DUI cases.  Just this week, the Chicago Tribune, in a story of the increased frequency of police officers using Tasers, described a case in which a passenger was tased for being unruly while his wife was being subjected to field sobriety tests.  The results of her breath test?  0.000.

Remember TLC’s DUI show?  The show where three of the first twelve defendants had their cases dropped, and a fourth one reduced, as a result of breath or blood tests.  That’s a 33% fail rate right there.

Nor should I have to mention the several Chicago Police Officers who have been caught faking or exaggerating facts in DUI cases over the past few years.

But the bottom line is this: drive while revoked, or get a DUI when you didn’t have a valid driver’s license, or have had two prior DUIs, and you will not only face a serious criminal offense, but additionally you may be faced with a lawsuit seeking forfeiture of the motor vehicle that you were driving when you committed the offense.

Carmen Iacullo, IDOT official, pleads guilty to DUI

IDOT official pleads guilty to drunk driving

Carmen Iacullo, an Illinois Department of Transportation official who has represented IDOT at safe driving programs, plead guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol with a BAC in excess of 0.08. He allegedly had a BAC of 0.098.

According to Clifford Ward of the Chicago Tribune, Mr. Iacullo plead guilty and received a sentence of court supervision, a $1,000 fine and was required to attend a victim impact panel. He was also ordered to wear a SCRAM device, which is an ankle bracelet which detects alcohol consumption. Wearing such a device is highly unusual for a first time offender. According to the Tribune, it was ordered because “it was not possible to install any state-owned vehicle Iacullo may drive with a device that tests blood-alcohol content.” This is somewhat confusing, but it implies that the state agreed to rescind Mr. Iacullo’s six month license suspension in return for wearing the SCRAM, since he was unable to obtain the usual driving permit which requires a breath ignition interlock permit installed on the vehicle.

Update: the Chicago Sun-Times states that Mr. Iacullo will have to serve his six month driver’s license suspension, and will be suspended by IDOT for 30 days. They also report that his total fines, fees and costs add up to $2,405.

Illinois law defines “supervision” as “a means of disposition and revocable release without probationary supervision, but under such conditions and reporting requirements as are imposed by the court, at the successful conclusion of which disposition the defendant is discharged and a judgment dismissing the charges is entered.” 730 ILCS 5/5-1-21. Our Supreme Court has ruled that supervision is not a conviction. One court stated that “the status of a case under an order of supervision then becomes in the nature of a continuance until the conclusion of the period of supervision whereupon the court shall discharge the defendant and enter a judgment dismissing the charges if the defendant successfully complied with the conditions of supervision.”

An Important New Decision Concerning Arrest Videos

The Illinois Supreme Court issued a very important decision last week concerning the preservation of video recorded evidence.  The opinion can be found here: People v. Kladis, 2011 IL 110920.

In this case, the defendant was arrested by an officer of the Northlake Police Department.  Northlake had a policy to erase arrest videos after 30 days.  In this case, the video was erased on the 31rst day after the arrest — which happened to be several hours before the defendant’s first court date.

The defense attorney in this case failed to subpoena or otherwise contact the police department before the court date.  However, the attorney had filed and served the State’s Attorney with both a Petition to Rescind the Statutory Summary Suspension and a Notice to Produce pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 237 within five days of the arrest.

The State’s Attorney argued that discovery in misdemeanor cases is limited, pursuant to a 1974 decision, People v. Schmidt, 56 Ill.2d 572 (1974).

However, the Supreme Court stated that “Since the time of Schmidt, the use of video recordings as evidence at trial has become a common practice to allow a defendant the opportunity to present an effective defense and to further the truth-seeking process…the routine video recording of traffic stops has now become an integral part of those encounters, objectively documenting what takes place by capturing the conduct of both parties.”

The Supreme Court further held that the trial court has great leeway to impose appropriate sanctions for the destruction of discoverable evidence.  In the case before it, a judge in Maywood had barred the arresting officer from testifying as to any facts that would have been recorded on his squad car video.

It has been a great frustration to me as a defense attorney to learn that an arrest video has been destroyed before I had a chance to review it.  This case was especially egregious because Northlake was destroying evidence after 30 days, when this case, as are most first court dates, are set after 30 days.  And when, in this day and age, it is very easy to store arrest videos on a CD-ROM or disk drive.  So I welcome this decision as wise and courageous, and in the best interests of all parties.