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Why You Should Not Testify in Your Criminal CaseWhen accused of a crime that you did not commit, it is human nature to want to tell everyone that you are innocent and explain why. However, it is almost always a bad idea to put a criminal defendant on the witness stand during his or her trial. There is too much potential for a jury to misconstrue your testimony, ultimately hurting your case. You are better served by making the prosecution prove the charge and letting the evidence speak for you.

Perception

Certain jurors may assume that your decision to not testify is a tacit admission of guilt, even though the court will instruct them to not make that assumption. However, testifying in court could do greater damage to your image. It is difficult to convincingly explain your innocence because your behavior will influence the jury more than your words:

  • Behaving nervously seems like you are trying to hide the truth;
  • Behaving emotionally makes you appear unstable, which is particularly bad if you are accused of a violent crime; and
  • Jurors could interpret a lack of emotion as you being cold and unfeeling.

Cross-Examination

You can practice how to answer questions that your defense attorney will ask you, but the cross-examination is the most dangerous part of testifying. Prosecutors will use the opportunity to ask you a series of tough questions in order to discredit your previous testimony or get you to unintentionally incriminate yourself. Their tactic is to wear you down with persistent and carefully worded questions until you:

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Jail Informants to Face Tougher Vetting in Criminal TrialsIllinois has passed a law that puts greater restrictions on prosecutors using jail informants as witnesses in criminal trials. According to the law:

  • Prosecutors must disclose their intention to use a jail informant at least 30 days before a hearing unless they were unaware of the informant before that deadline; and
  • The court must determine the veracity of the jail informant’s testimony before allowing it to be entered as evidence.

The law previously required vetting of jail informants only in cases involving the death penalty, but Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011. Advocates for the law argued that unreliable informant testimony led to wrongful convictions that were overturned decades later. There have been 19 such cases in Illinois during the past three decades, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

Problems with Informants

A jail informant, also known as a snitch, is an inmate who allegedly heard the defendant make an incriminating statement and agrees to testify against him or her in court. Criminal defense attorneys will question the reliability of informants because prosecutors often offer incentives to informants in exchange for their testimony, such as:

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Court Deems 22-Year Juvenile Prison Sentence UnconstitutionalIllinois criminal law requires courts to add 15 years to a prison sentence if the defendant had a firearm while committing the offense. However, Illinois amended its law regarding juvenile sentencing in 2016 to allow a court to disregard the mandatory sentencing enhancement if it believes it is not appropriate for a juvenile offender. The law instructs the courts to consider:

  • The juvenile defendant’s maturity and ability to consider risks;
  • Outside influences on the defendant;
  • Neglect or abuse at the defendant’s home;
  • The defendant’s potential for rehabilitation;
  • The circumstances of the offense;
  • The role the defendant played in the offense;
  • Whether the defendant participated in his or her defense; and
  • The defendant’s criminal history.

Illinois prisoners have since appealed their juvenile criminal sentences, citing the new law. Courts have ruled that the law does not apply retroactively to juvenile offenders who were sentenced before the law went into effect. However, courts have granted resentencing for a few of these appeals, saying that the sentence was excessive for a juvenile case.

Recent Case

In People v. Barnes, the defendant appealed a 22-year prison sentence he received for an armed robbery he committed when he was 17. Fifteen of the years were mandatory because he had used an unloaded revolver during the robbery. The defendant argued that the 15-year firearms sentence was unconstitutional for a juvenile because it violates the Illinois Constitution’s proportionate penalties clause. The clause is the state’s equivalent to the eighth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects defendants against cruel and unusual punishment for a crime. An Illinois appellate court agreed that the defendant’s sentence went against society’s “evolving standard of moral decency.” The court noted that the defendant:

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Posted on in Criminal Law

Consequences of Lowering the BAC LimitStates will be closely watching the effects of a new Utah law that will lower its blood alcohol concentration limit to 0.05 starting Dec. 30. Utah is the first state to set a BAC limit that is below 0.08, which has been the limit in all states for several years. There is a global precedent for the limit, with about 100 countries having a BAC limit of 0.05 or lower. Other states may follow Utah’s lead if the law corresponds with a decrease in alcohol-related traffic deaths. Critics argue that lowering the BAC limit will do more to increase the number of arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol than it will save lives.

Inexact Science

It is already debatable as to whether the 0.08 BAC limit accurately measures whether a driver is intoxicated. The limit attempts to quantify how much alcohol it takes to impair someone’s driving ability. Different people have different tolerances to alcohol, and not everyone will be impaired with a BAC of 0.08, let alone 0.05. People with a higher alcohol tolerance may show no signs of driving impairment with a BAC of 0.08, which helps them avoid suspicion and arrest. However, police officers may stop and question these drivers for reasons other than showing signs of impairment, such as:

  • Minor traffic violations;
  • Vehicle equipment malfunctions;
  • Sobriety checkpoints; and
  • Traffic accidents caused by another party.

A 0.05 BAC limit makes it more likely that an unimpaired driver will be arrested for DUI.

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Illinois Inconsistently Applies Juvenile Detention PolicyIllinois has amended its juvenile crime laws in recent years to try to reduce the lasting damage that the justice system can cause. It is more difficult for the state to try a juvenile as an adult and easier for juvenile offenders to seal or clear their records. However, the use of detention centers is still negatively affecting some juveniles. Even police detention after an arrest can psychologically damage a child. Juvenile advocates are challenging the detention system, saying that detention centers do not meet the goal of rehabilitating the children.

Statistics Suggest Harm

Studies of people who served time in a juvenile detention facility as children show that the use of detention facilities often correlates with:

  • Lower high school graduation rates;
  • Lower rates of employment and income potential;
  • Higher occurrences of mental illness; and
  • Greater likelihood of becoming a repeat offender.

Other studies have concluded that areas that more often offer alternatives to juvenile detention have lower rates of juvenile crime.

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Illinois State Bar Association State Bar of Wisconsin Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce Illinois Trial Lawyers Association McHenry County Bar Association
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