Category Archives: Anecdotes

Back Into It…

Man, I’ve missed this. My brief foray into a new area of law was…less than thrilling.

So, I’m back. Criminal defense and happy to boot.

I have a trial coming up at the end of the month. Aggravated battery of a peace officer. I think I have a 70% chance of winning. If I lose my client is probably sentenced to probation since it’s a first time offense and he’s only accused of kicking a cop. But he will definitely be deported. That’s not a fun outcome. I’ll keep you all posted as to the outcome.

I also have a client who was picked up in a brawl in a funeral home. He wasn’t brawling, in fact, he was almost a quarter of a block away when he was stopped and arrested. The preliminary hearing for that was fantastic…15 people arrested in the melee, at least 10 lawyers standing along the wall, all nodding to each other “You’re here for the fight? Me too!” and then everyone was indicted. It was a circus.

So, I’m going to be consistently posting, don’t worry!

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How Not to Plead Guilty

I pled out two young gentleman today. I don’t like doing this, it’s not why I’m a lawyer. I do understand the need to explain to you the pros and cons of pleading guilty…but really, I’m just holding your hand through the proceeding. Trying a case, putting the state to the test, that’s the stuff lawyers like to do. Pleading you out? Not so much.

Today, a client of mine charged with gun possession pled guilty and received one year of probation. This case was so bad for the state that they dropped FOUR additional charges against him, including three Class 2’s (the remaining charge was only a Class 4). I told my client we could fight the case. The state’s case was not very strong.

My client had been offered the probation at the last court date. He thought about it for a month. It was explained to him then, then explained to him again today. He agreed, it was a good deal. He also has to get his G.E.D., something I have no problem telling my clients to go do. He agreed to take it. We filled out the forms, I spent a good 20 minutes with him, getting the plea ready and explaining to him all the parameters.

We stood in front of the judge. It takes about ten minutes or less, especially if you have a fast talking judge, to get a plea over with. He agreed to everything the judge said. AS WE WERE WALKING OUT OF THE WELL (this is the area in front of the judge, beyond the gallery, where only lawyers, defendants and bailiff’s sit) my client asks me “How much to fight the case?”

WHAT! I was shocked. I sat him down. I looked at him and said, “Ten seconds ago, you pled guilty. Now you want to fight it? I asked you, repeatedly what you wanted to do today.” He looked at me and said, “Man, I don’t wanna do no drops. I smoke, man.”

My client didn’t want to take his deal so he could keep smoking weed.

Needless to say, I spent a good fifteen minutes explaining to him how difficult it would be to withdraw his plea, how his next deal (which there wouldn’t be) would be terrible, and how, although we told him before we could fight the case, if he LOST, he was going to go down, probably for a year.

He shrugged, then agreed that he should have taken the deal…the one he took. Looking back on it now…I’m thinking he might have actually been high right then and there.

Can’t Make This Up

A short list of amusing courtroom anecdotes.

Today I was at 51st and Wentworth felony preliminary hearing court. The clerk called out the name of a gentleman with a case…”Brown, Cleveland!” Seriously. The whole front row of cops snickered.

At a sentencing in Rolling Meadows, two 18-year-olds charged with trespass to a vehicle (a nice way of saying “breaking into cars”). They each have a juvenile bust and are there with their parent(s). The judge asks them if they have anything to say before he sentences them. Warning! Usually, unless you are truly well spoken, or at least, truly sincere, just don’t say anything, not on a minor crime. One of the kids says “This is the stupidest shit I have ever done.” The judge snaps back “No it’s not, that was the first time. This is just you not getting the picture.”

Last, a fashion tip to the ladies. Do not come to court wearing stripper heels. I saw a young lady teetering about in 4-inch lucite heels the other day. Nothing good will come of that.

Deportation for Baking Soda: Or Why Possession of Cocaine Can Really Screw You

I had a client the other day have his drug case get dismissed. The reason? His labs came up clean, he had purchased $40 worth of baking soda, instead of cocaine.

However, as noted earlier on this blog ICE is watching all felony arrests at Cook County Jail. My client had applied for asylum many years ago and been denied, and presumably had received notification that he was to be deported. Of course, he ignored it. Now, he’s being kept without bond at Cook County Jail on an immigration hold, and in the next few days, we’ll see if ICE picks him up and sends him packing.

NOTE! Cocaine has NO misdemeanor possession amount. Check 570/402(c) of the Illinois Controlled Substances Act or just take my word for it. It should be noted that less than half a gram is SOMETIMES thrown out by Cook County judges, namely because a police officer would usually lack probable cause to search you for it, but generally for the more practical reason that it’s just not enough to get all worked up about. Cocaine possession is never a misdemeanor, although luckily, judges in Cook County generally treat possession of less than 5 grams as if it were.

My client was arrested for what was thought to be cocaine. Tests proved it wasn’t. But he got caught up in the dragnet of our new War on Immigrants and he’s probably leaving the country. I know a lot of people wouldn’t be too upset about it. However, I find that a lot of my (illegal) Hispanic clients aren’t too worked about this. These people have family, friends, jobs, their whole lives here. If they’re deported…I feel like they look at it as an inconvenience…but they’ll be back.

Constructive Possession, Drug Busts and the U.S. Mail

Today we went to trial and won without even putting on any witnesses for the defense. Out in Bridgeview (the 5th Municipal District) I watched the State’s Attorney have their case fall apart like tissue paper. It was a teaching moment, not their fault, but indicative of what you can face as a person caught up in the War on Drugs.

An informant had claimed to have bought drugs at the house of my client. The informant (confidential, of course) said that my client had offered her marijuana, left the room they were in (the living room) went into his bedroom and returned with weed. My client supposedly said that she could come back at any time.

My client was described as 5′ 08″ Hispanic male with dark hair. Really? Isn’t that about 75% of the Hispanic population in Chicago? Anyway, based on this flimsy info, the police obtain a search warrant and raid my client’s former home.

See, my client had moved out over a month prior to the alleged drug sale. My client had rent receipts and witnesses from Indiana where he was living. The police still came in, without any information that there would be guns or possible violence, shot all three of the family’s dogs (two of which were chained up and on less than four feet of leash) and tore the house apart. My client was not there, because he did not live there.

Now. In order to prove the intent of drug possession with intent to deliver, you must prove 1) knowledge of the presence of the cannabis, 2) it was in the person’s immediate control and 3) the quantity was in excess of an amount that might be viewed as for person use. I should note, my client barely made it over the limit for personal use possession.

However, it’s number two that is the kicker. The police must prove you had it in your immediate control, and what if when they find it, you’re not around? In our case, that was the issue, my client wasn’t home when they found a small amount of drugs in a bedroom. In order to prove that it was his, the State must prove “constructive possession.” Constructive possession is circumstantial proof that you, the criminal defendant, exert control over the area the drugs were found.

In order to do this, the police, during drug raids, take two things. Pictures and mail. Pictures are meant to show that you had pictures of yourself up and why would there be pictures there if it wasn’t your room (or house, or whatever). The other is the mail. When they find mail at the residence with your name on it, they grab it.

In our case today, the police grabbed…a four year old tax return, a bill with our client’s name on it…but it turned out to be for his father (who has the same name) and a pay stub, dated two days prior to the raid. Obvious defects were there with the tax return and the bills for our client’s father, but the pay stub was a problem. Clearly, there’s evidence there from our client from right before the raid…but of what?

Turns out, of nothing. For two reasons. Our client still visited home quite often. He was a young man and he did laundry at home, came home for meals, had four younger siblings still there. But more damning, the State didn’t have the police officer present from the raid who could testify from where any of the mail was found. What we knew was that they just grabbed a basket full of bills from the living room and took everything with our client’s name on it (which was also the name of his father). This pay stub was probably in there…but we’ll never know because no where in the police reports and no where in evidence did we have a clue as to where the mail came from.

In the end, the judge spent a good ten minutes from the stand lecturing the State on the weakness of their case. This was one of those “teaching moments” where I actually believe the judge was lecturing the police because of the really poor job they did. In fact, at one point, the judge noted that the police never asked our client the one question they should have. Which was, which bedroom was yours? Now the judge also noted that the police didn’t want my client to deny he lived there, or state the wrong room. So the police gambled. They gambled that they would be able to prove with the poorly documented and hastily gathered evidence, that there was constructive possession of the drugs they found. Which they could not, hence, my client was not guilty.

Of course, there is but one lesson to be learned from this whole escapade, which is the same one to be learned from all our teaching moments here. NEVER TALK! Ask for your lawyer, insist on not answering any more questions until you have been allowed to see your lawyer and just shut up. Proving constructive possession isn’t easy…don’t hand it to the State on a silver platter.

Courthouse Casanova

Today I was put in a funnily difficult situation. I appeared for a client on a violation of probation. It was petty, he wasn’t paying the fine he was supposed to and had missed two appearances in front of his probation officer.

Now my client is a great guy…let’s call him “Frankie.” Frankie is a smooth talking, nice dressing, charismatic dude. Has a legitimate business, lots of friends, and has steered a lot of business my firm’s way over the years. He did something in the courthouse I have yet to see a defendant do before.

He hit on a prosecutor, right in front of me.

Now, only ten or fifteen minutes prior while we were talking in the hall before we went in for his hearing, he got the phone number of a girl waiting for the elevator. Seriously, he just walked over to her, smiled, said some things so softly that even though I was standing ten feet away from him, I couldn’t hear it. Then she smiled and gave him her number.

After the probation hearing (recommitted to probation and a tsk-tsking from the judge), we were standing in front of the bank of elevators at 26th and California. Two attractive young prosecutors, one white and one black, are standing about 15 feet away from us. Frankie leans over, elbows me and says in a completely audible voice, “Hoo boy, she sure is beautiful, isn’t she?”

Both of the prosecutors stare at me. I’m screwed. Do I say yes? No? Smile? High five him? I laughed and nodded and turned around. Frankie kept going!

“Sorry ma’am, I’m just letting you know, you are quite beautiful.” Neither prosecutor reacts, they just stare at him, and presumably at the back of my head. The elevator dings and they get on, going up, we get on a different one going down.

I have seen plenty of my clients get phone numbers in the courthouse, usually from girls they already know, other times just from sheer force of will. Frankie set the bar high today, though, for future courthouse Casanovas. The only way to top it, would have been to get that number.

Interesting Stuff

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately…

A Public Defender describes a terrible Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling regarding sexually assaulting a dead person…and the difficulty that creates. As a native Wisconsinite (not a Wisconsonian, sorry Gideon, Cheesehead is also acceptable) this just makes me uncomfortable.

Mark Bennett at Defending People just finished a white collar criminal trial. As I am about to embark on a large Medicare fraud trial, I appreciate his ability to blog during his breaks!

Steven Gustitis at The Defense Perspective is running an amazing series of posts on the science and technology behind the Intoxilyzer 5000, one of the most widely used machines for testing alcohol for DUI stops. Amazing stuff!

Windy Pundit discusses Scott’s Law and his own unfortunate run-in with the Illinois State Police and the following legal twists regarding suspension of his license.

Sentencing Law and Policy discusses some recent articles on mass incarceration as a criminal justice failure. Hear, hear!

That’s a lot of drunk teens!