Posts Tagged ‘Criminal defense’

Criminal Defendants, Criminal Charges and their Criminal Cases: Who are “THOSE” People?

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

As a criminal defense lawyer, defending a lot of felonies cases and drug defense cases, I often get asked by people who are not criminal defense lawyers: “How can you represent those people?” Of course I know they’re talking about criminal defendants charged with crimes. But “those” people are sons, daughters, spouses, parents, co-workers, friends, and so on – not just mere people charged with criminal offenses. And, guess what, “those” people are quite often innocent of the crimes they’ve been charged with. Oftentimes the police or the prosecution overcharge people with criminal charges, such as intent to deliver on drug cases. I’ve seen intent to deliver charged with misdemeanor amounts of cannabis and near-residue amounts of controlled substances, which, if convicted on such higher-grade criminal charges, bars most options for treatment. 

     Some people who have asked me the question, “How can you represent THOSE people” have later on needed my criminal defense lawyer services, and have appreciated my work in a criminal court on their behalf.

     That is why, to this criminal defense attorney, I much rather use the words “Defending the Accused” than making any reference telling a person that they are criminal defendants. They are presumed innocent, after all, the foundation of our criminal justice system, and are often in fact not guilty and, if guilty, were sometimes arrested via unlawful police conduct.

     Even if someone is caught “dead-to-rights” as a person subjected to a criminal charge, the person still needs to be treated like a human being – because they are. It does a criminal defense lawyer no good to look down his or her nose at “THOSE” people, but instead must give the client a chance to talk, to explain how or why; at the drug addiction seminars I have attended, I learned that drug addicts have often been abused physically as well as emotionally, and have already had their share of being on the receiving end of yelling and lecturing, without much chance to talk. There is great power in telling the drug addict, for example, that it’s his or her turn to talk, and for the criminal defense lawyer to listen. That alone is often a first in the lives of many.

      With all the alternatives available to a person in terms of drug treatment and counseling, how in the world can a criminal defense lawyer know what to do if we don’t, you know, shut up and listen? I was humbled when,  about ten months ago, I was told just that by a client. I did shut up. He did talk and I heard and I listened. Doing so allowed this criminal defense attorney to talk to the right people within Kane County’s highly effective drug court; doing so also allowed the client a chance to hear things from his own mind out loud, causing him to hear the sound of his situation in his own words, inspiring him even more to make positive changes in his life. He is now ten months in recovery. Is there a connection to a criminal defense lawyer shutting up when talking with the client? – well, he’s the one succeeding, let’s leave it at that.

     So – to all “THOSE PEOPLE” asking how can I represent “THOSE PEOPLE”? – my answer is: If it ever becomes necessary, I’d be happy to represent you or anyone else, if the need arises, and to do so with the respect any person deserves.

Criminal Defense Lawyer and Drug Charges: Keeping the Mind focused on Hearts of Hope

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Dear Readers: Regarding drug charges and addiction, a link to Hearts of Hope is provided at the end of this blog entry.

     When the new criminal charge comes into my office, and the client has no interest in fighting a criminal drug charge, for instance, as a drug defense lawyer I tell the new criminal defense  client and his or her family that I do not want the client’s repeat business. Although this hardly seems effective as a business model, when it comes to defending drug cases and drug charges, it absolutely is the only model that makes sense. As a criminal defense lawyer, I always look over every page in the criminal case to look for anything and everything that will help my client charged in a criminal case. Motions to quash regarding an illegal search, errors in charging the criminal case, motions to dismiss the criminal charge – the client’s right to know all information and opportunities in his or her criminal case does not change simply because the client confides his or her drug or alcohol addiction to me. In fact, as a criminal defense lawyer, I know that I can often take advantage of such errors in criminal cases to my clients advantage, allowing them the freedon and opportunity to get drug treatment as opposed to incarceration without any hope for drug addiction treatment.

     Look, if a former drug client wants to hire me again, of course I’ll do it, and charge the legal fee. But what does this mean? It means that the client, despite the prior case or cases, has continued on in the world of drugs. Of course I presume each client innocent, as I should. But even if a person is innocent in fact, a new arrest may mean that the person has been traveling in circles that allows a false accusation to be charged. And if the person is in fact not innocent, then the addiction has continued. Whether the first case resulted in an outright not guilty, a motion to quash being granted, or some other form of dismissal, or if the person negotiated probation as a result –  with treatment – well, despite the successful surgery, the drug-addicted client has ripped the stitches wide open again because the addiction continues.

     In trying to improve my understanding of what people go through combating addiction, I had the pleasure of recently attending a Hearts of Hope meeting in Geneva, IL, in Kane County, a couple miles east of the Kane County Judicial Center. I cannot reveal names or even general details, because of promised confidentiality, but I can say that Hearts of Hope is one amazing organization, one that every criminal defense attorney in Aurora, Elgin, Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles, all of Kane County or from anywhere for that matter, should attend. Although open to recovering addicts, the focus seems to be on the parents of addicts. I saw the pain and frustration upon the faces there, and the strain and love in their voices. After all, these are the mothers and fathers who raised babies into toddlers, toddlers into teens.  And for each loving parent, it is so harshly devastating to witness that beautiful child succumb to addiction along with addiction’s impact on the addict’s life and health, and that of the loved ones around them.

     The session showed a helping hand of hope, a real heart of hope, a name this group well deserves. Each parent not only seeks comfort among those who understand because they too have been living the pain of addiction upon a child, but also each parent searches for answers in a realm where there just doesn’t seem to be a concrete answer. There are also parents there whose children have maintained recovery for a long time, providing an even bigger heart of hope. As a criminal defense attorney, I wanted to see, hear, and learn from such parents. Hearts of Hope provides a wealth of information and honest facts about real addiction histories. 

     It is clear that the age-old adage of the addict not only recognizing he or she is an addict, but also wanting help, remains true. Forcing someone without these basic steps just won’t work. But even with addicts receiving inpatient treatment for 3, 6, even more than 12 months, relapse happens, and sometimes quickly after release from inpatient treatment.  When I pressed for an answer why, what did the addicted person say was the reason to relapse, so hard and so soon? –  I found that there was no definitive answer to be given.

     In my March 18, 2011, post, I wrote about the need for the drug addict to be genuinely scared before treatment will stand a chance to work. Indeed even though an addict has seen death of friends due to illegal drugs, or loss of child custody, loss of employment, college, career, a place to live, the trust of family, or may have suffered a near-death overdose themselves – far too often, none of what would keep the rest of us straight seems to be enough in the face of addiction, especially heroin. It’s as though, when relapse happens, it’s because the addict’s mind at the point of relapse has emptied of every other thought, and the logical reasons not to relapse are at least muted. The person simply wants the drug. Maybe there’s a plan, doomed form the start, to sneak a hit one more time, or a plot to work around drug testing. But such plots and plans always fail at some point. Always.

     I still could be wrong, but my gathering with Hearts of Hope strengthened my belief that the addict seeking recovery has to have made up his or her mind to be scared of the addiction every single day. To make up the decision to be scared of the drug every single moment of the day. In this way, a decision is made, and made every day, before temptation arises and before the inner voice to use begins to talk. Is this the answer, or even part of the answer? I wish I knew for sure. I wish that each and every parent could have his or her son or daughter back the way they were before addiction took over the child’s life. I am convinced, however, that Hearts of Hope is invaluable for parents seeking personal relief from their own pain, for persons seeking information, as the people there provide a wealth of valuable information. And it’s also a valuable group for the recovered addict and the parents of the recovered addict to attend, to provide their own Hearts of Hope and strengthen their own continuing recovery.

     In our criminal courts, no lawyer or judge should deny a defendant his or her statutory or constitutional rights, nor provide each person anything short of  full information and options on any given case. To do otherwise not only would violate the principles lawyers and judges are sworn by oath to uphold upon licensing, but also would serve to cause an addict, typically suspicious of authority to begin with, to deeply mistrust or turn away from a court system if that system’s honesty is suspect. However, that certainly does not mean treatment is inconsistent with criminal defense. Even if litigation is the addicted client’s choice, with an eye toward victory for that case, the criminal defense attorney should provide the whole truth, that victory will be for that case only, and not for the rest of the addict’s life, unless recovery from addiction is fought for and won.

     I hope each of you who have honored me by reading this blog entry will also link (provided below) to the Hearts of Hope web site, and then pass it on to your friends and family. Sadly, I think we all know someone, or know someone who knows someone, who is hurting because of addiction. Hearts of Hope – it’s not the only organization out there, but it is special and powerful, and will in turn link you to other, helpful organizations. The cost?

    Hearts of Hope is both free and priceless. Please click on –  http://www.heartsofhope.net/

Aurora, Oh Aurora! Elgin, Oh, Elgin! Everything’s fine with Criminal Charges and the Law

Monday, April 25th, 2011

To this criminal defense lawyer, it seems that not soon after my criminal law post regarding State Rep. Keith Farnham’s “new” idea about requiring defendant’s to reimburse the police for the cost of the defendant’s arrest, that Elgin continues to go further and further with the same idea. Now, if you are arrested for the criminal charge of DUI, in addition to other traffic stops and criminal arrests, you’ll have to pay the city of Elgin $500 for your car’s tow, as well as for the cost of the car’s impoundment itself by the private company. This is the case even if there is a perfectly fine driver there to drive the car home making the tow unnecessary, but also in cases in which a person is found not guilty of the crime, and even if there is a finding of no probable cause for the crime. This is the same process the city of  Aurora, Il, has been using for years. The officials know that since the fine is “only” $500, that such persons subject to the fine will not hire a lawyer to defend against the fee charged because lawyers understandably have to charge more than that to wait around and conduct a prepared trial. What a racket.

     It is this criminal lawyer’s opinion that this is not constitutional. It fails to afford a person reasonable due process. It presumes people guilty first by holding the car or a posted $500 hostage until the hearing, in which the administrative judge is someone picked by and paid for by the same municipality that seeks to gain money through this process. The Elgin government officials even say this – that their goal is to raise 1.5 million dollars a year in revenue under this sham process.

     Cities like Aurora, IL and Elgin, IL seem to want to solve their financial woes by increasing fines and costs in criminal cases in never-ending ways and amounts, and by creating new ones, not realizing that there comes a time when the stone is producing no more water, and that it costs more to chase after unpaid fines than what is actually collected.

     It is time for the criminal defense bar in Kane County to consider whether these hearings actually provide an opportunity for a deposition in a criminal case that they might not ordinarily have, and turn the tables on the government by actually making them work, take their time and personnel, and provide recorded testimony of the hearings, as well as any video and-or audio tapes of the DUI or other traffic arrest. Such legal fee can be incorporated into the overall DUI fees for representation in the criminal case itself, and make it affordable, and reasonable, for both the attorney and the client.

    At least to this criminal defense attorney, this is making sense, especially in cases involving driving under the influence cases. DUIs – it seems now more than ever government officials wish to make money rather than reduce the numbers of people driving under the influence.

Domestic Battery Criminal Charges in Aurora, Elgin, Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles – What’s going on?

Friday, March 25th, 2011

If you have ever stopped by a criminal court room set aside for domestic battery criminal charges, the crowd from day to day may make you wonder whether half of the citizenry is beating up the other half, whether it’s in Aurora, Elgin, Batavia, St. Charles, Geneva or any other Illinois town. As a criminal defense attorney, I ask, What’s going on?

     Let me give you a suggested explanation by example of a real criminal case invovling such a criminal charge of domestic battery and another criminal charge growing out of it that should surprise you:

     A husband and wife work at the same business that covers DeKalb, DuPage, Kendall and Kane counties. A big busniess. Turns out he’s having an affair and the wife finds out about it. At an office party in a public setting, he starts dancing with the other woman in front of all their co-workers. The wife, understandably upset, runs up to her husband waltzing with the other woman, kicks her husband in the shin one time, and runs away in tears. The husband runs after his wife to bare his soulful apologies and to seek reconciliation, which the husband and wife so begin to reconcile. Regardless, the police are called and she’s arrested – for domestic battery in which, if found guilty, she cannot get supervision even though she has no criminal history at all. She must be convicted, pay a hefty fine, face up to a year in county jail, and spend 26 straight weeks getting domestic violence counseling.  But on trial day, since the prosecution insisted on going forward despite these facts, the husband, with a good dose of guilt and now reconciled with his wife, decides not to appear. Now he’s charged with contempt of court and prosecuted for failing to appear – and on and on.

     I know this case. It’s real. I represented the husband.  

     Here’s what’s true: Abuse of women by a boyfriend or husband went on for far too long without getting the serious attention such crimes deserved. The abused woman often suffers immeasurably, succumbing not only to obvious and horrific physical damage, but psychological damage as well. There can be no denying that at all. Specialized domestic violence courts, as I recall their basis, were created entirely on this very real issue and need.  The intended goal was and remains  laudable. To provide not just the prosecutorial attention, but also to provide counseling services to help end the cycle of the physical as well as the related psychological abuse against women. But something happened that I believe has diverted such courts from these laudable goals. 

     The Illinois domestic violence statute covers every aspect of the phrase “family member” that a person can think of. Not just between spouses as well as people dating for at least a minimal time, but it also includes relationships between any “family member” via blood or marriage. Siblings and step-siblings come under this law, possibly cousins, too. Parents and their kids and step-children. Regardless of the domestic relationship, any unwanted touching, whether it causes bodily harm or not, are all under the same Illinois domestic violence statute and arrive at the court room that was supposed to help address abuse against women.

    As a result, fights between siblings are domestic batteries no matter how benign or serious. A substance-abusing, often-suspended-from-school teen can call the police and make claims against Mom or Dad who have been struggling for years with their child’s bad behavior. Then there are the claims that a man has bitten his girlfriend hard in the face, also punched her several times in the face hard several times, hit her over the head with a heavy object, run her over not once but three times with a car – and in each case the woman has not one injury on her, is drunk at the time even as the man is calm and is actually the one bearing an injury – and he gets arrested anyway. These are fact patterns in domestic violence cases from Aurora, Elgin, Geneva, Batavia, and St. Charles that I’ve handled over the years. 

     To make matters worse, police understandably have real fears when called to a scene of reported domestic violence. The officers do not know what they’ll run into. Perhaps they fear being attacked themselves. They fear making the wrong call if they make no arrest and then they’ll read about it in the newspaper if something bad happens afterwards, so they err on the side of arrest, contrary to exercising discretion based on what they see with their own eyes. 

     In our domestic violence courtrooms, there are of course abused women, real victims, that need special prosecutorial and counseling attention. But as a result of the above, I believe, they and their cases get buried beneath mountains of these other types of cases day after day. Resources get diluted. An already strained prosecution staff has less time to provide services. In many respects, it is the broad scope of the domestic violence statute itself that does a disservice to those women in real need who were the original reasons why the statute was passed in the first place.

     I do not claim to have the perfect solution to this situation but it seems that a few changes would make basic sense. First, do not include fights between siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews among those cases covered by the domestic violence statute. The same holds true between parents and their kids. While such batteries can of course be serious, their dynamics differ from from those suffered by abused women. These other cases can readily be handled not just by the regular misdemeanor and felony criminal courts but also by our abuse and neglect courts when it comes to abused children;  in fact, that’s why such abuse and neglect courts exist, with their own specialized services for those situations. These other cases do not need to use the victim counseling as well as counseling for the offender that are unique to cases of abuse against women.

    And are we to have no logic applied here? If someone makes a claim that is simply not plausible under the given facts, can there be no discretion applied by the police or by the prosecution? Certainly there are gray areas that need to be decided on the side of caution. However, arresting and prosecuting a man upon a claim that he bit someone hard in the face 5 minutes ago, and there are in fact no injuries present of any kind –  is an arrest and prosecution that serves only lawyers, who can then charge that man a fee for legal representation. And I did, discounted given the facts, of course!

     Now, perhaps, you have the answer as to why our domestic violence courts are so crowded day to day, and why such dockets are crowded with cases having nothing to do with common sense or abuse against women.    

    Ending with the beginning – the woman who kicked her cheating man one time in the shin finally had her case dropped after her husband continued to refuse to testify against her. But he did have to go to hearing on the contempt case against him. When I asked the judge whether such a man, after what he had done in public, should now be held in contempt for not wanting to give his wife a criminal conviction, the Judge smiled and shook his head. Four hours of community service, that’s it, the Judge ordered, but for behaving like a jerk at the office party, not for refusing to come to court.

“Addiction Treatment” – What does that mean for the Criminal Defense Lawyer?

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Whether charged with a criminal case in Kane, DuPage, Kendall, DeKalb or any criminal court in any county, when a judge orders someone into drug addiction treatment,  what does “treatment” mean? This is an important consideration for a criminal defense lawyer.

     Criminal defense lawyers should know there are no magic wands to stop drug use, or magic words for that matter. Over the years defending the accused on criminal charges related to drug additiction, I have heard of, and seen in a few clients, a situation in which some dramatic moment occurs in his or her life, and the cycle of drug use suddenly ends. But this is extremely rare. More commonly addicts use and continue to use even in the face of jail or prison time, loss of contact with loved ones including newborn children, loss of work, health, trust, respect and self-respect and, admittedly, in the face of mounting legal fees.

     I’ve experienced a client, after jail, inpatient treatment, an intervention specialist, and incredible family members, use and commit new serious felonies a day after re-entry into a program, losing a significant career, freedom, the opportunity to keep all felonies off his record, and face long-term prison away from a young child. Believe me, after experiencing that one last summer, I was ready to throw my hands in the air and give up on the notion of “treatment.”

     But I can’t. I’ve seen it work, and work often. Besides, the consequences of not trying are clear and deadly.

     As a defense attorney, I always have and will continue to give significant discounts in fees if the voluntary option chosen is treatment. It’s an encouragement, I believe, to help reluctant addicts come up with the courage to face treatment for addiction without force, without sacrificing other choices such as trials and motions that are each person’s constitutional right. This becomes burdensome, but necessary work when a client relapses a second, third, or even more times, and I keep stepping up with the client for minimal or no additional fee. I have to – I know them and their family dynamics too well to stop trying.

     I have asked such people, who have relapsed again, what actually goes on in treatment sessions. What I have learned consists of conversations between therapist and patient that are what you may expect. Discussions intended to scare (usually health, family / work consequences, prison and death). Personal discussions (how did this start, and why). Community discussions (support groups / sponsors). Educational discussions (the truth of addiction, the voice that never goes away completely, but can be made to fade and weaken). Approaches (usually day-at-a-time approaches / 12-step programs / Narcotics Anonymous) so that the patient-addict is not overwhelmed by the major goal to simply “just say no.”

    In an older post I talked about  the incredible success of several of my clients in dealing with addiction. Soon after, sadly, more than half of these persons relapsed, all of them badly. Today, one is lost entirely to long-term prison. A hard, very hard, and sad case. But the others? They’re still in there fighting back. In one case in particular, in Kane County, with incredible help from the Kane Count Rehabilitation Drug Court Team, I got one of my relapsed clients back into inpatient treatment just before the Illinois budget cuts on such treatment occurred (which is another topic for discussion). I simply had to ask each of these clients why they relapsed, yet again, in a court system with prison and other personal consequences hanging over each person’s head.

     What I gathered from each was not so much a failure of the treatment itself, but the fact that they weren’t really listening to the treatment provided. They went into the programs with their minds made up that they would succeed, that the addiction was as good as licked, even before the program started. When talking to those people who made it to the extent of long-term sobriety in which they successfully completed treatment and their probation without re-offending or relapse, I found the common theme from each person as to treatment was as follows: they didn’t know whether they would make it; they didn’t draw any conclusions as to their own success; they feared failure; they had no answers and weren’t even sure of the questions. In conclusion, they were scared.

     It’s interesting that those with fear, at least among the clients I talked to, appeared to have more success reaching sobriety than those who expressed confidence about their success. At least in the world in which I have worked, it wasn’t a lack of motivation on anybody’s part. What seems to have made the difference is the patient’s honest desire to listen to the treatment providers. Those who were scared were more inclined to listen and, more importantly, more likely to follow the treatment provider’s advice. As an example, when the drug addict’s inevitable internal voice to use drugs, to relapse, comes, the scared persons talked about a willingness to immediately call his or her sponsor right away, to work through this building desire to use drugs through conversation, or to actually meet with the sponsor until the desire to use passed. But the confident patients tended to have the go-it-alone, I-can-do-this-without-anybody’s-help approach, thus rejecting treatment’s guidance and coming up with his or her own game plan, usually as to why this just-one-more-time use of the drug can be rationalized; then, since it cannot be rationalized, the use goes full-blown again.

     In a realm such as drug addiction, where a definitive conclusion is dangerous to make, I propose that the question of treatment and what that word means for drug addicts should also focus on the drug addicts themselves. Are they ready for treatment? – is a key question. Moreover – are they willing to listen? And, perhaps most important, are they scared enough to give up all preconceived notions of success so instead they may better absorb what is taught.

     I keep my hopes up for my clients even after relapse. As distasteful as it is, relapse happens, and often does so more than once before recovery is truly obtained. As a criminal defense attorney, I am grateful for this understanding within today’s court system and the drug court system in particular.  

     I’m looking forward to attending a particular drug court graduation ceremony. There’s someone I’m hoping will be there among the other people who have reached meaningful sobriety.

     I have some confidence that this client will make it.

     After all, for the first time in his life, he is scared that he won’t.