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When Police Pat-Downs Violate Your RightsThe police practice of frisking or pat-downs is controversial because of its invasiveness and connection to racial profiling. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects people against illegal searches and seizures, which includes searching on a person’s body. In order to frisk a person, the officer must have a warrant to search for a specific item or reasonably believe that the suspect is armed and dangerous. Police have used the “armed and dangerous” exception to perform what they call “protective pat-downs” on people without establishing probable cause that they committed a crime. Evidence found during an unreasonable pat-down can be dismissed from a criminal case.

Police Encounters

There are three types of encounters that a police officer has with a member of the public:

  • They can arrest an individual when there is probable cause that the person is committing a crime.
  • They can briefly investigate a person that they reasonably suspect of committing a crime.
  • They can have a consensual encounter with a member of the public in which the individual voluntarily talks with the officer.

It can be difficult to differentiate between a consensual encounter and an investigatory stop. During a consensual encounter, the member of the public should feel like they can leave the encounter at any time, but the officer is often the one who initiates the encounter and presses the individual to answer questions. 

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U.S. Supreme Court Will Not Rule on Illinois Felony Murder LawDespite the controversy over Illinois’ felony murder law, the state does not seem to be close to amending the criminal law that allows prosecutors to charge certain defendants with first-degree murder despite them not causing the death or intending to kill the victim. The law states that a person who participates in a forcible felony may be charged with murder if someone dies during the incident, including an accomplice in the crime. An Illinois defendant recently appealed his felony murder conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Illinois Supreme Court had upheld the constitutionality of the law. However, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Examples

In the recently appealed case, two men were convicted of murder because they were involved in a burglary incident in which police had killed a third suspect. The three men were burglarizing an electronics store when police officers surrounded the building. The men attempted to flee in a vehicle, and the officers shot at them 77 times. One of the men was killed, and the other two were injured. Illinois’ felony murder law allowed the defendants to be charged with murder even though it was the police officers who shot and killed the third man. One defendant was sentenced to 25 years in prison, while the other was sentenced to 20 years.

In a recent high-profile Illinois case, five teens were initially charged with murder when a property owner shot and killed a sixth teen when they were attempting to burglarize his vehicle. The state’s attorney later dropped the murder charges after public pressure.

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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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