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Court Rules That Portion of Illinois Stalking Law Infringes on Free SpeechAmericans regularly exercise their right to freedom of speech, which prohibits the federal, state and local governments from creating laws that would hinder free speech or create a chilling effect on free speech due to fear of punishment. However, criminal courts have established exceptions to free speech when the speech constitutes criminal activity. You can be charged for making verbal threats that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their immediate safety. It can be difficult to define the line between free speech and a criminal act, and courts are mindful of laws that may unintentionally punish people for speech that is not criminal. For instance, an Illinois appellate court recently found a section of the state’s criminal code on stalking to be unconstitutional because it was overly broad in its limits on speech.

Recent Case

In People v. Morocho, the defendant was convicted of three counts of aggravated stalking for sending threatening text messages to a woman with whom he had a child. The offense was aggravated stalking because the defendant had allegedly caused a bruise on the woman’s arm from a previous incident. Illinois defines stalking as:

  • Engaging in a course of conduct that the suspect should know would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or suffer other emotional distress
  • Following or surveilling a person on at least two occasions and threatening harm or causing someone to reasonably believe they are threatened

One of the counts that the defendant was convicted for was based on the section of the law that defines stalking as causing someone to “suffer other emotional distress.” On appeal, the defendant argued that this section of the law was overly broad and unconstitutional. The court agreed that the wording of this section could allow people to be prosecuted for lawful speech. It stated that the law separated speech causing emotional distress from speech that causes someone to fear for their safety and that someone could feel distressed from speech that clearly did not fit any definition of stalking. The court reversed the defendant’s conviction on the one count and upheld the other two counts.

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Unreasonable Seizure Can Dismiss Criminal EvidenceHow long are police allowed to wait before requesting a warrant to search a computer they have seized as criminal evidence? An Illinois court determined that eight months is too long in a recent criminal case and suppressed the evidence found on the computer. In People v. McGregory, the state accused the defendant of manufacturing fraudulent credit cards to commit identity theft, based on evidence from equipment seized during an unrelated warrant search of his home. To understand the facts of this case, it may help to start with an explanation of rules regarding searches and seizures.

Lawful Searches

The U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment states that citizens shall not be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. This means police must obtain a warrant to conduct a search of someone that they have probable cause to believe has committed a crime. A warrant authorizes police to search at a specified location and seize specified items that are related to the suspected crime. However, the police may be allowed to seize unspecified items during a lawful search if:

  • They are in plain view.
  • There is probable cause to believe that the items were used in committing a crime.

In People v. McGregory, the police officer had a warrant to search for drugs and weapons but saw equipment that is used to make fake credit cards and cards that had names of people other than the defendant.

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Teen Suicide Prompts Illinois to Change Procedure for Juvenile InterrogationsMost teenagers cannot help but feel intimidated when a police officer questions them. They may not understand that being detained and interrogated is different from being arrested and charged with a crime. On the other side of the interrogation, a police officer may not appreciate the trauma that a teenager may experience after being questioned about a serious crime. In 2017, a 16-year-old high school student in Naperville, Illinois, committed suicide after a school resource officer had detained him for questioning at the school over an alleged recording of a sexual encounter. The teen’s parents were not aware of the allegations or the police questioning until after the teen took his own life. In response to this incident, Illinois recently enacted a new law that changes the procedure for police questioning a student on school grounds.

Parental Notification

A law enforcement officer who suspects a student younger than 18 of committing a crime must comply with the following steps if they intend to detain and question them on school grounds:

  • They must notify or attempt to notify the student’s parents or guardian;
  • They must try to allow a parent or guardian to attend the questioning;
  • If a parent or guardian is unavailable, they must allow a mental health professional to attend, such as a school psychologist or social worker; and
  • If reasonable, they must try to include a law enforcement officer who is trained in communicating with youth.

The law states that its rules apply when a student is on school property during regular school hours and when students are present.

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Your Rights When Approaching an Illinois DUI CheckpointStates disagree on the legality of DUI checkpoints – spots where police officers stop passing vehicles to see if drivers show signs of being intoxicated. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that checkpoints could be legal but let states decide how to conduct them properly. Twelve states, including neighboring Wisconsin, consider them illegal because they stop drivers without establishing reasonable suspicion of a crime. Illinois is among the states that do allow DUI checkpoints. If you find yourself approaching a checkpoint, you need to understand how they work and your rights.

How DUI Checkpoints Work

Police can create a DUI checkpoint at any time and place but most commonly use them during holiday weekends at locations where DUI arrests are common. They may use media outlets to announce checkpoints in advance in hopes of discouraging drunk driving. Police must follow several rules in order to legally conduct a checkpoint:

  • They cannot select a location that would cause unnecessary traffic jams or create dangerous situations for drivers;
  • They must use signs, lights or signal flares to alert drivers of the upcoming checkpoint;
  • All officers and vehicles must be cleared marked as belonging to law enforcement;
  • They cannot unreasonably detain drivers who show no signs of intoxication or other suspicious activity;
  • They must have reasonable suspicion in order to force a person to step out of the vehicle or to search the vehicle; and
  • They cannot arrest someone without probable cause that a crime has been committed.

Your Rights

You are allowed to turn around to avoid a DUI checkpoint as long as you make a legal turn. If you do go through the checkpoint, you have the same rights as someone whom police have pulled over:

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New Law Ends Statute of Limitations on Sexual AssaultIllinois has amended its criminal code in order to remove the statute of limitations on prosecutors filing sexual assault charges. The law previously required that prosecutors commence sexual assault charges within 10 years of the alleged offense. Now, the law simply states that sexual assault charges may be commenced at any time. Advocates for the new law argue that sexual assault victims may have personal reasons why they wait years to tell authorities about their assault. Illinois made a similar law change in 2017 for sexual assault cases involving minors. Those accused of committing sexual assault should understand that this new law does not change the prosecution’s burden to prove the crime.

Definition and Defenses

Illinois defines criminal sexual assault as any non-consensual sexual contact or penetration with a victim. If the party does not actively rebuke the sexual contact, they may still be unable to consent if they are incapacitated, inebriated, underage, mentally disabled, or facing the threat of violence. A first-time conviction for sexual assault is a class 1 felony, punishable by four to 15 years in prison. Defendants can use several arguments to contest the charge:

  • The sexual assault did not occur or the defendant was not involved;
  • The alleged victim’s testimony is inaccurate or unreliable;
  • The sexual contact was consensual; or
  • The defendant has or had a mental condition that makes them not responsible for their actions.

DNA evidence of sexual intercourse can strengthen the prosecution’s case but may not be the deciding factor. The believability of each side’s story and testimony from witnesses will help a court determine whether it is likely that a sexual assault occurred.

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