Monthly Archives: November 2007

This week in ridiculous criminal laws: Theft of Wireless Service

Ok, so, who here hasn’t done this? Put your hand down. You have a laptop, right? And you’ve needed wireless service and some fool left his network unsecured? And you didn’t jump on to fire off that email to the boss? Or check your fantasy football scores?

Look, it is theft. It doesn’t need its own definition. It doesn’t need its own crime. Can you believe, this crime has upgrades! If you steal less than $300 worth, it’s a Class A misdemeanor, and if more than $300 worth, a Class 4 felony! And if you do it twice over $300 worth, it’s a Class 2 felony!

Holy cow! Are there businesses downtown jacking each others wireless? Is this really a problem that requires its own crime? This has to be one of those “We’ll respond to the citizen’s complaints with a law that NO ONE will ever enforce,” legislative acts.  Can you imagine calling 911 and telling the police, “I’ve been surfing the internet and it’s reaallly slow today. I think my neighbor is downloading porn on my network!” I bet the CPD hops right to it and gets the Forensic Computer Division over to your house, stat!

720 ILCS 5/16F-3 Theft of Wireless Service, you’re the ridiculous criminal law of the week!



I was in District 5 of the Cook County Jail today. That’s the administration building (and where you go to pay bonds). It’s right in the middle of the giant Cook County Jail at 2700 S. California.

I was serving subpoenas to guards in the Cook County Jail (Sheriff’s) and in came marching to the lobby a group of about 40 cadets, Sheriff’s, presumably.

They all got yelled at and stood there with their arms behind their backs and stared ahead. Or at me, since I was the only civilian in the lobby.

It was funny. They looked like they didn’t like being treated like the inmates that they were about to guard. Being told where to go…how to act…treated dismissively.

Hmm. Wonder if that’ll sink in?



This appears to be the most read post on my blog. I’m not sure why, except to note that there is probably not a lot of online information about cadets in either the local police academy or sheriff’s office. So let me drop a few words of advice on you, the possibly new peace officer.

1) Do your job honorably.

You are electing to join a dangerous, rather underpaid, many times unglamorous job. It will be hard to feel appreciated, or respected. You are, trust me. You won’t hear it often, you won’t feel like it from the people you’re helping…it will be small victories, not big ones that matter. That said, always keep your perspective right. You are here to protect and serve the public, not your own ends. Don’t take advantage of your shield, your gun, or your position. Remember, you are my public servant. You are the crackhead’s public servant. You are the drunk fan at US Cellular’s fields servant. You’re our employee, not the other way around.

2) Don’t lie.

The hardest thing to do as a cop is not lie. I don’t mean that you are dishonest by nature, I just mean that the facts are frequently inconvenient. Every criminal lawyer knows that cops lie. We call it “testilying” when you take the stand, because cops lie so much that the most frequent reason cases are lost, are because cops are lying. And they’re lying for a “good cause,” i.e. putting bad guys away. Well, too bad. You’re lying. And when you lie, you undermine everything. And you know what, you’ll get away with it…but not every time. And those lies will pile up and soon you won’t know the difference between them and the truth, and then you’re not a cop, you’re not a officer of the peace, you are a vigilante, a thug and a criminal just like the people you don’t think deserve the right of a fair trial.

3) Work hard.

If you do a good job, you will win. You will find the evidence, you will get the guy to talk, you will put it all together. The other most frequent reason cases are lost is because the cops didn’t find the most obvious witness to the case who blows it all apart for them. Or they don’t do just the little bit of footwork necessary to get the conviction rock solid. A state’s attorney will bring a bad case…because there’s enough there to give it a valid start. But you, the lazy cop, will be the reason it doesn’t result in a conviction.

This week in ridiculous criminal laws


What the hell?

What in god’s name am I talking about?

Jackrocks, also known as caltrops, are a device, generally with four point arranged similar to a pyramid, that always leaves one point sticking up if you were to toss them. That point, sticking up, is a dangerous object, especially to horses. So, if you use them against a horse, it will injure its hoof and cause it to pull up lame. Sort of like the spike strips used by police officers today.

It is illegal in Illinois, under state statute, to use, toss, sell, possess, give away, manufacture or purchase jackrocks. 720 ILCS 5/21-1.4.

So what’s the point? Ha.

This is the first in a series what will show the ridiculous, vestigal tails of the Illinois criminal code. There are numerous laws on the books that are either no longer a big deal (jackrocks), politically motivated (all sorts of enhancements and separate laws for child molestation, sexual assault) or just dumb.

This series will highlight those laws. If the Legislature ever gets around to reforming the state criminal laws (something it’s supposedly getting on…any…day….now) it may use this series for some ideas on where to start.

The criminal code in Illinois is complex, complicated and unnecessarily so.  This is a way to highlight that fact.

Your Preliminary Hearing


You got pinched.

You got pulled over.

You got busted

Somehow, someway, the long arm of the law put the cold hand of justice on your shoulder, tapped it, and said, “Right this way.”

So what happens next?

Well, you’re going to be arrested, cuffed, and taken to jail. You’ll go to the nearest district lockup first. Then be taken to 26th and California, aka CCDOC, aka Cook County Jail. In there, you’ll be processed (if you weren’t possibly earlier, not all district lock ups will process you). This means mugshots, vital info and fingerprints.

Next, you’ll get a bond hearing. Now, bond hearings are an interesting beast. We’ll tackle those right here.

But the next step, that’s your preliminary hearing. Or, if the State chooses not to, your Grand Jury indictment.

You’re headed to 51st and Wentworth, just off the Dan Ryan, on the southside. Or to Belmont and Western. Or 111th and Ellis. Or Kedzie and Flournoy. Or Grand and Central. Lots of feeder courtrooms where these take place. There, in a two room court house and police station you will be brought out before a judge who will spend a whole five minutes determining probable cause on your case.

The case cannot proceed unless there is a finding of probable cause, which in this case, is a nexus or connection between the criminal activity alleged and your involvement. This is a very low standard. If you win today, if there is no finding of probable cause, you’re on your way home, a free man. If there is a finding (and over 90% of the time, there will be) you begin your criminal odyssey.

Your lawyer won’t be asking a lot of questions. He can’t. Not legally. Depending on the judge, the state has to put up the minimum amount of information to show probable cause. The defense attorney is not allowed to ask questions beyond the parameters (purposefully) set by the State’s Attorney that are very, very narrow. As such, while I stand next to you and ask questions about who else was there (objection!), what else they saw (objection!), anything, anything beyond what was brought up by the State (objection!) you’ll see that there is little to be done besides trying to slip a fast one past the judge now and then.

The purpose of most preliminary examinations, for most lawyers, is to try to establish space, time and distance. That is to say, where were you (the police officer I’m questioning) in relation to the defendant, how long did the (deal, traffic stop, assault, interaction) take place, how far from the defendant were you, etc. All other attempts at information gathering are stabs in the dark.

Remember, it NEVER matters what really happened, it matters what you’re allowed to address in court. And at your prelim, that answer is very, very little.

No witnesses testify for you. No argument is made (or at least, very little). It’s a cattle call, it’s assembly line justice. It’s your prelim.

Old School Chicago Crime

Sooo, the good folks at Northwestern put together a nifty website with old books, manuals, laws and cases regarding the Golden Era of Chicago crime…Prohibition.

Murder in Chicago

The name pretty much says it all. Death in the city of Chicago, Capone era.

“High Crime Area”

There are many definitions in the law that are fuzzy and up for interpretation. One that is used to justify a host of constitutional violations is “high crime area.”

Here’s a quick primer on “high crime area.” Look around you. Are there a lot of black and/or Hispanic people? Are most of the stores selling malt liquor, cigarettes and have a distinct lack of produce? Are the cars in your areas on blocks and/or ridiculous rims?

Then you live in a “high crime area.”

You don’t need statistics to justify it. You must not prove that compared to other areas of the city it has more crime. Just say it, and it is!

A recent ruling in the 1st Dist. Appellate Court (that’s Cook County, yo) showed that maybe, just perhaps, courts are going to start looking at “high crime area” and its progeny and limit them.

In re. Mario T., No. 1-05-3499 (that’s a juvenile case…we don’t use their full names to protect them) discusses the use of “high crime area” to justify the search of a loitering juvenile.

In the case, police were called to apartment building after reports of three unknown men breaking into a vacant unit. Two officers responded to the building at 2964 S. State. Keep in mind, that’s less than a block from IIT, and, hilariously enough, about two blocks from police headquarters on Michigan Ave. and 35th St.

Upon arrival, the police find four youths (pronounced “yoots” in Pesci-lawyer-speak) loitering in the hallway. At this point, minus any other information, the police have no right, or justification to search the kids. Until the kids raise a “reasonable suspicion” in the police, they can’t search. The police need a “reasonable suspicion” to perform what is known as the “stop and frisk” or the Terry stop.

Terry was a bloke in Ohio back in the day (the 60’s) who was frisked by a police officer when Terry raised the cop’s suspicion that he was casing a store to rob. The police may “frisk” you for the purpose of making themselves safe…aka, check to see if you’re carrying a weapon. But that’s about all they are supposed to look for in the search.

Basically, the police operate on three levels of interaction with you. One is normal. They’re a dude, you’re a dude, you’re hanging out, nothing happening. Two is “reasonable suspicion.” This is where you’ve done something to make the cop suspicious that criminal activity is afoot. Third is “probable cause.” At this point, the cops can arrest you. Prior to that, they can’t.

Well, Officer Handsy (not her real name) frisked the yoots and found herself a big ol’ bag of crack. Actually, a big bag with 26 smaller baggies in it. It’s like a box of Cracker Jacks with nothing but prizes in it!

Anyway, was Officer Handsy’s search justified? What sort of reasonable suspicion could these daaangerous youths have inspired in her? They live in a “high crime area”! That’s how!

The officer testified that it was determined that the youths didn’t live in the building (although the kid in question for this case lived down the street) and said they were visiting one of their sisters. Officer Handsy said that it was her experience that the building they were in and the area they were in had a lot of investigations involving guns and drugs. Oh my!

This is the weakest leg to stand on I have ever heard for the justification of a search. And to the lawyer’s credit in the case, he argued, “under the state’s attorney’s theory, everyone who lives there…is subject to a reasonable search and seizure…because…anyone who lives in that area is under suspicion based on the fact that they simply live there.”


“High crime area” is such a nebulous and, frankly, bullshit definition and yet it is used to justify searching, well, black and Hispanic people, wherever the police damn well please.

So, the Appeals Court, applying a bit of common sense and bit of Constitutional analysis, decided this was not enough. Officer Handsy had no reason to search the youths, the bag of crack was suppressed, and presumably, when the state tries to bring this case again, they will simply give up.

But! A kid got away with possessing a whole lotta crack! Yup. He sure did. And he did so to protect yours and mine civil rights. The fact is, we as a society punish the lawless. In this case, the lawless individuals were the police. We punish them by removing the “fruits of the poisonous tree.” Without rambling on and on, this is to say, we don’t let the police use against you what they illegally obtain. Since these youths, and Mario T. especially, had their rights violated by claiming that by virtue of them living in a “high crime area” the police can search them just for standing around in a hallway, the police were punished by not letting them use the drugs in the court case.

Now, the police sympathizers on the court stated that this was just smart police work. A dissenting judge, Presiding Justice Cahill, said that any police officer would have done exactly the same thing. Officer Handsy had said in court that she was afraid, concerned for her safety. And when you perform a Terry stop, as a police officer, you are protecting yourself by making sure the person you stopped doesn’t pull a piece on you.

BUT! You have to have a reason to believe that person is possibly up to criminal activity. Four kids, in a building, in a hallway, doing nothing else, not matching the description (presumably) of the men breaking into the apartment that brought the police there in the first place, well, what exactly are they up to?

Being black. And young. In a bad neighborhood. And usually that’s enough to let the police violate your rights.

Not this time.

Grand Theft Puppy

As was widely reported over the weekend, thieves made off with a nice haul of puppies from the Pet Luv Pet Center on the 8000 block of S. Cicero. The 17 missing puppies cost around a $500 to $1000 a piece, meaning the total haul is around $10000 to $15000, according to the owners.

So what will the South Side Dog Nappers be facing when they’re finally brought to justice? A quick check of the animal cruelty statutes finds that unless they’re kept in wretched conditions or abused, none of those likely apply. Instead, it’s plain old thievery. That’s 720 Illinois Compiled Statutes Annotated (ILCS for short) 5/16/-1 “Theft.” And since it’s axiomatic for State’s Attorney’s to charge as much as possible, and for the highest possible valuation of the goods stolen, so estimate their charging total to be closer to $15000.

Of course, the only number that is relevant to the State is the cut off number between the different levels of felony. In this case, between $10,000 and $100,000 is a Class 2 Felony.

I will do a primer on the levels of criminal offenses in IL in the next few weeks. But a quick quide is that there five levels of felonies in IL, starting at Class 4 (lowest level) through Class 1 (second highest) and then Class X (as in the letter, not the Roman numeral for “10″) within crimes that have amounts of possessions, or totals of dollar amounts, or degrees of touching. i.e. drugs, theft, sexual assault, and a handful of others.

As for what those dog nappers are up to? Well, it’s actually easy to sell dogs. I imagine most will disappear into the neighborhood, or possibly be disposed of online. It’s a nice haul, frankly, for a thief, and moving the goods will certainly be a cinch. You definitely don’t need a fence to sell a dog!