Category Archives: Current Criminal Law News

Preferential Treatment and the Chicago Police…Reversed?

Last Thanksgiving I saw the broken glass and swept up evidence of a fatal crash only a few blocks from my house. Two young men were killed at a T-intersection on Damen Ave., at Hamlin Park, in front of the softball fields I walk the dog around.

An off-duty police officer, John Ardelean, crashed into two young (Hispanic) men from Cicero around bar close.

In February of 2008, Judge Donald Panarese dropped the charges for lack of probable cause. At that time, he said that “assumptions” were ruling the day, not facts, and the prosecutors hadn’t made their case.

Some of the facts that are known are this. The police officer was given 6-8 hours to sober up before he took a breathalyzer…on which he still blew a .032. There is a video tape showing Ofc. Ardelean drink five shots of booze and three beers in under two hours and only minutes before the crash. Also he appears to leave the bar with bottle of beer in his hand.

Now, witnesses at the bar said two things. Ofc. Ardelean did not appear to be, act or look drunk. Also, some of the shots were water. Really? He was pounding back shots of water with his buddies?

This case is simple. A Chicago Police officer was given the biggest break of his life by his own comrades. He was allowed to sober up for 6 hours prior to taking a Breathalyzer, essentially destroying evidence by letting his body process the alcohol that would have proven he was driving drunk.

Well, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office got an earful and has decided to reinstate charges against Ofc. Ardelean. They claim that a new video, showing a longer sequence of time where Ofc. Ardelean is drinking means they have a better case. It should be noted that the judge in the preliminary hearing saw no videotape of Ofc. Ardelean drinking at all.

Ofc. Ardelean, from a defense counsel’s perspective, has a good case. Apparently numerous witnesses to back up that he was either pretending to drink, not acting drunk and did not appear intoxicated. He followed the first two rules of a DUI stop, in that he refused a field sobriety test and, technically, a Breathalyzer, although, what he really got was UNBELIEVABLE preferential treatment.

This case may have reasonable doubt written all over it. But there’s also two dead young men, a damning video tape. Ofc. Ardelean should be thinking more along the lines of Anthony Abbate rather than R. Kelly.

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Bad Lawyers

A pair of news stories today that don’t give lawyers that sterling reputation we’ve earned over the years…cough…ahem.

Stuart Levine, who admitted to cocaine romps and other hi-jinks in the Tony Rezko trial was disbarred today for overall sleaziness.

A far less salacious, but no less unethical issue, is that of Scott Robert Erwin who was charging his client by the lap dance.

Now, Stuart Levine had personal demons that caused him to spend the night doing crazy drug binges…but Mr. Levine has a lot more ‘splainin to do. It’s easy for an attorney to talk about drugs and alcohol, lawyers have one of the highest addiction rates of any profession, but strippers in the office? Working off their fee?

Ironically, barter isn’t exactly unheard of in the legal world. When my dad was in private practice he had a client who couldn’t pay his bill. My parents had just built their house and had a gun metal gray front door. My dad’s client worked in a body shop and offered to paint it. So my dad had him color it Camaro Red (the Chinese paint doors red as a good luck symbol) and that satisfied the tab.

Of course, painting your house and taking your clothes off…different ends of the ethical scale.

GPS Trackers on Chicago Police Cars

One of the problems I have as an attorney is proving a police officer is lying.

Technology is great for two reasons. People trust it. Thanks to shows like CSI there is a perception that technology is both uncontrovertable and omnipresent. Second, people assume that it is neutral. Video tape, fingerprints, DNA, they don’t take side, they just present facts.

Therefore, it’s unsurprising to me that the Chicago Police force objects to putting cameras in their cars, as well as installing GPS trackers.

Well, they lost the GPS battle. Now Chicago police cars are ‘pinged’ every 15 seconds to determine their location. In addition, the ping can tell if the car is parked, idling, or moving and how fast, whether it has its lights and sirens on, whether someone is in the passenger seat, the doors are opened, etc. And what are the police complaining about? That they won’t be able to take naps on the job.

The resistance to cameras is simple. The police will be recorded not doing their jobs properly. It’s why when I have suburban police forces with cameras in their cars…they’re frequently “not working.”

This is not a coincidence.

Now, as a practitioner, and to other practitioners, I say, if there’s a question as to whether you think certain cars were either at the scene, or arrived or left early, or you have any questions about this at all (and these GPS trackers are on undercovers as well as squads, I believe), then go to the OEMC on Madison St. and subpoena these records! I haven’t had the need to so, but they’re going to be very convincing, I predict.

Father McCokeypants

I am a fallen away Catholic. One of my favorite representations of my faith is this:

The clergy sex scandals over the years disturbed me pretty deeply. But then you see a story like this, and even I’m pretty shocked.

This isn’t just a priest accused of a personal failing…he’s accused of possessing up to an ounce of cocaine in a safe in his house and dealing it with regularity from the rectory.

This just leaves me speechless.

Jason Austin, Cop Killers and Prosecutorial Discretion

You’re probably read in the news that Jason Austin, accused cop killer of, had his charges dropped by the State’s Attorney Office. This is a miracle for any number of reasons.

1) He is accused of killing a cop. Cop killers are given NO BREAKS…in fact, all the rules are broken when it comes to their interrogation and case handling. Now, I know cops who would read that might say “Why no! We would guarantee that we pull of a pristine investigation in order to get a conviction.” To which I reply, sure…tell that to Andrew Wilson.

2) Prosecutors, god bless ’em, rarely exercise the sort of judgment that lets them dismiss cases. Call it ego, call it hubris, call it competitive drive…whatever, but I’ve had prosecutors look me right in the eyes, tell me they have no case, they’re going to lose, take it trial and watch it all happen like they said. Well, Ms. or Mr. Prosecutor, if that was all a waste of our time and resources, why did you do it? Exercise a little discretion.

3) This was a big media case. You’ve seen the coverage. Off duty police officer and girlfriend robbed and murdered in their car. Cop gets off a 911 call before he expires describing his assailant. It’s a tragedy, no doubt. But with the papers, talk radio, police and public baying for blood, to get a dismissal means one thing and one thing only.

They actually had the wrong guy.

But here’s why this bugs me. Clearly, David Weiner, attorney for Jason Austin, presented some compelling evidence that they had the wrong guy. The car the police had recorded leaving the scene on a pod camera (those blinking blue boxes on telephone poles), didn’t really match Austin’s. Plus, Austin’s car was in the shop at the time. Then, there was the supposed “admission” that Austin made about committing a robbery to a friend the night of the murder. Now, I don’t know the source of the person who told police he said it, but I’m going to bet a Andrew Jackson it was someone arrested that day who felt like they could “help” the police by giving a statement.

All of this fell apart like tissue paper. Dick Devine and the State’s Attorney’s office isn’t going to embarrass themselves bringing a shaky case…when the media spotlight is on. But when it isn’t…and trust me, the VAST majority of cases processed through Cook County get no coverage whatsoever…this sort of discretion is harder to come by.

If only prosecutors acted like all their moves and motivations would be exposed to the harsh light of media coverage in EVERY case, maybe more of my clients would get a fair shake.

Types of Bonds in Chicago and Why You Won’t Walk Out of Cook County Jail

There are three types of bonds. I’ve gone over them before in in my article on bond court. But an interesting article in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (sorry, no link if you’re not a subscriber), noted how a war of words is brewing between the Cook County Sheriff and the judges of Cook County.

The judges of Cook County can issue you one of three types of bonds.

They are the R-bond or Recognizance bond. This bond means you pay nothing, and you just come to court on your honor.

Then there is the I-Bond, which assigns you a dollar amount that you owe if you do not show up to court, but requires you to post nothing in order to be let out of jail.

And last, the D-bond, or detainer bond, which requires you to post 10% of the total amount of the bond.

It seems that a week ago, judges in Cook County issued not ONE SINGLE recognizance bond. Sheriff Tom Dart has been hearing it for the conditions at Cook County Jail which are atrocious. I didn’t need a federal investigation to tell me that the jail is a disease infested hell hole with no health care and a Gladiator style method of internal enforcement involving pitting gang members against one another by the guards and no discipline for abusive guards. What was interesting is how the Sheriff got all huffy when it turns out that the Cook County bond judges (who use little to no time to determine your bond) had not issued a recognizance bond for a week. According to Dart, they hadn’t had people sleeping on the floor in weeks (weeks I tells ya!) but this was setting them back. Never mind that guys are quadruple bunked over at Cook County Jail…

The lesson of the day is, recognizance bonds are like unicorns…rare, hard to get, and fleeting. You’re more likely to put up a few hundred to a few thousand to walk, that’s just the facts.