Drug Defense / Criminal Cases / Alcohol Case, Elgin IL Branch Court, Kane County

Alcohol, drugs, and criminal charges. Defending a lot of drug defense cases as a criminal drug defense lawyer: not too long ago, I looked into the eyes of a man who was the opposite of everything I ever wanted to be, or what I would eer want to see with someone facing a criminal charge. It happened by a chance meeting, but felt inevitable by the time the EMTs took him away.                

     I had arrived at the Elgin, Illinois Branch Court that early afternoon, armed with my criminal defense lawyer pinstripes, criminal defense lawyer brief case, and criminal defense lawyer case law, to represent a young woman in a contested hearing on a traffic charge also dealing with a drug charge. At the entrance to the building, a man, probably around 60, asked if I would help his friend, probably around 75. I couldn’t talk much to them at the moment as my client’s hearing was set to go, but the older man’s traffic ticket and fine seemed easy enough. I said I’d help after my client’s hearing was over. Both men left so the older man could get the money needed to pay the fine from an area ATM.                

     With the hearing over successfully (motion to quash arrest and search granted), I saw the older man now had the money to pay the fine for his traffic ticket. As I sat next to him, I got a good look at his eyes. Extremely bloodshot, watery, flitting as though too embarrassed to look at me. His short, unkempt hair matted with new and dried sweat. He had shaved but had missed patches of beard, and his pale skin blotted red here and there. His speech wasn’t slurred, but his sentences were clipped, as if he felt no need to speak since the sagging state of his thin-limbed body proved everything about him. The words on his T-shirt expressed an irony: United States Veteran. Proud and Strong.                

     Turns out the friend, the man I thought was 60 to 65 was actually a robust 77-year-old man, energetic, neatly dressed, polite with clear eyes. “How old is he?” I asked him, about the man I had thought was at least 75. The friend sighed in a way that told me I wouldn’t believe him. The man with the ticket, who I thought was an unhealthy 75, was only 54, a year older than me.

     I asked the 54-year-old to smile. He did.

     No teeth.                

     The 54-year-old man paid the fine on his ticket and walked with me and his friend to a hall beside the courtroom. His arms shook and we all sat down on the chairs there.  I asked him, “How long have you been an alcoholic?”                

      There was no alcoholic odor about him, but it’s common for alcoholics to do their best not to drink the day before a court date. His shakes no doubt were the DTs. The friend filled me in.                

     He had been military for 9 years, with an honorable discharge. Always a drinker for the 12 years these two have been next-door neighbors. An avid fisherman who had worked as a highly skilled machinist. The drinking, and extreme smoking too, continued and intensified. The list of this man’s losses due to alcohol was nearly complete: fired from his career, divorced, the ensuing girlfriend leaving him, a son who wouldn’t talk to him, a drunk driving arrest where he failed to even remember the conditions of his court-ordered supervision, let alone follow them, which led to revocation of his driving privileges. Then the unlawful driving tickets began to mount and his house fell into disarray. Foreclosure was becoming inevitable since he ignored his mail and had no idea what bills were overdue. All he had left was his life. Even that was ebbing away fast at age 54. And what for?                

     The cheap beer and hard liquor in his fridge.                

     Somehow this man had been caught driving under the influence only once in his life. Why his ticket and the fine he had to pay were so mild the day I met him remains unexplained. Still, with the state of his mounting legal troubles, there was only one thing that was going to save what was left of his life, as well as his freedom and surely the safety of people out on the road should this man again get behind the wheel of a car. He needed long-term inpatient treatment with aftercare. Now. That’s when the friend laughed. 

     It turned out that the friend had taken his neighbor to an area Veterans hospital as well as an alcohol evaluator. He was sent away both times. The professional in each instance had deemed him “un-evaluatable.”                

     In my 26-year legal career, I have never before heard of a person deemed to be “un-evaluatable.” I asked this human being, “After all that’s happened, all that we’ve talked about, to keep you out of jail, to keep you out of prison, to get you healthier and stop endangering people around you – what are you going to do with those cans of beer and liquor bottles in the fridge?”                

     Without waiting a beat, the man said, “Drink ‘‘em. I ain’t going anywhere.”                

     I asked the friend why he keeps trying to help when it seems that his neighbor doesn’t want to start. Before he could answer, the neighbor made a sickening gasp. He stiffened, jaw clenched, eyes rolled back, arms outstretched as if reaching for a ghost, and his mouth frothed. I placed my hands on his shoulders to keep him from falling out of his chair during his seizure, and shouted for court security. The friend helped me lower him to the floor. The friend’s eyes teared up, but he did not speak the words of an enabler. Instead he said, “I warned you your drinking would lead to this, you goddamn son of a bitch.”                

     Court security attended to this man in an impressive, professional manner. Likewise with the EMTs. Fifteen minutes later, the man was on his way to a hospital as his friend and I watched the EMT vehicle and fire truck siren away.                

     We sat quietly on a bench for a moment and began to talk about our lives, as strangers sometimes do after sharing a shocking event. This friend, too, had been in the military. He was good with his hands and had been involved in building a lot of the infrastructure from Elgin to Aurora, Illinois. He loved his yard work. He loved the fact that he was well at age 77, enjoying an active life with his wife of 51 years. When it came to his neighbor, the friend said he enjoyed fishing with him, he was good company, until alcohol was all that remained of his life.                

     “I never told you why I keep trying to help that poor son-of-a-bitch,” he said, patting my back. “It has to do with my faith. I don’t like to say the words, but I try my best to do the deeds. Besides, like I said, he used to be good company on the fishing boat.”                

     I gave the friend my business card. I told him if his neighbor does go into long-term treatment, to let me know and I’ll represent him. The judges will need to hear he’s in treatment and that he’s serious about it, or else he will be in jail for a long time for the sake of everybody’s safety. The friend added the obvious: “Or dead.”                

     It had been at least twenty minutes since the EMTs had taken the neighbor away. The friend and I parted for our cars and our own lives filled with loved ones and active things to do. I’m sure George knew as well as I did that it was not likely we would talk with each other again.

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