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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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Police Must Prove Probable Cause Before Obtaining WarrantIn order to conduct a search of a person or premises, police officers must obtain and present a valid warrant. A judge will issue a warrant based on the information presented in an affidavit from a police officer. The affidavit must show that there is probable cause to believe that criminal activity has taken place and that a search will turn up evidence of the crime. Even if a judge approves a warrant and police conduct a search, you can challenge that the warrant did not establish probable cause, which would allow you to suppress evidence from the search.

Establishing Probable Cause

A police affidavit must describe in detail what they are searching for and why they believe that a crime has been committed. For instance, a police officer can request a warrant to conduct a blood test based on evidence that they reasonably believe a driver is under the influence of alcohol. When requesting to search a private residence, the affidavit must show probable cause by:

  • Presenting objective evidence of criminal activity at the residence and involving the accused parties; and
  • Establishing the credibility of the source of that information.

A police officer who claims to have witnessed the alleged criminal activity is generally considered a reliable source, based on their experience in such cases. Other sources are less reliable, particularly when they are police informants who may be providing information in exchange for leniency on their own criminal charges.

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Reasons to Appeal a Guilty VerdictA guilty verdict in a courtroom is not always the end of your criminal case. In Illinois, you have 30 days after your verdict to file a notice to appeal the ruling to a higher court. The appellate court can either affirm the ruling of the lower court or reverse part or all of the ruling, which could mean that the charges are dismissed or the lower court must retry the case under new instructions. Not every guilty verdict is worth appealing if there is practically no chance that it will be successful. However, there are some cases where it is in your best interest to appeal.

Disagreeing with the Verdict

When appealing a verdict, you must state which parts of the lower court’s rulings you dispute and the legal reason why you dispute it. Many criminal appeals argue that the appellate court should overturn the guilty verdict for reasons such as:

  • The verdict going against the evidence in the case;
  • The judge giving the jury incorrect instructions;
  • The court allowing the prosecution to use inadmissible evidence;
  • The court misinterpreting or misapplying the law; or
  • Any other factor that made the trial unfair to the defendant.

In cases with multiple charges, you can choose whether to dispute the verdict on individual charges. Most appellate court judges do not overturn a lower court ruling unless there was a clear mistake during the trial that affected the outcome of the case. Even if they disagree with the verdict, they will defer to the judgment of the lower court unless that judgment was unreasonable and against the manifest weight of the evidence. If they do overturn the ruling, they may send the case back to the lower court for a new trial.

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