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Illinois Bill Would Reduce Felony Convictions for Retail TheftDo you know that Illinois has one of the strictest retail theft laws in the U.S.? Illinois is one of only six states that allows felony convictions for stealing items valued at $300 or more. Many other states require the value to be more than $1,000 before a retail theft conviction becomes a felony. Members of the Illinois House of Representatives are trying to change the law to raise the minimum value for a felony theft charge and reduce the number of offenders who end up in prison.

New Law

The proposed bill would make three changes to Illinois’ criminal code regarding theft:

  • Theft of property valued at less than $2,000 would be a Class A misdemeanor;
  • Theft of property valued at $2,000 or more would be a Class 4 felony; and
  • A second theft conviction of less than $2,000 would be a felony only if the first conviction was a felony.

Predictably, business owners have publicly opposed any raise to the minimum value required for a felony retail theft conviction. Illinois lawmakers have admitted that they may need to reduce the $2,000 threshold in order to pass the bill. However, raising the minimum to even $1,000 would be an improvement for the state.

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Contesting Child Abuse Allegations by the DCFSThe Illinois Department of Child and Family Services has the authority to indicate you for child abuse or neglect if its investigation concludes that there is evidence of such mistreatment. Being “indicated” does not by itself mean you are facing criminal charges, but the DCFS can use it to limit your parental role and put you on a state register that may prevent you from having a job that involves working with children. You have the right to appeal the DCFS’s decision in order to expunge their findings from your record.

Expungement Process

You have only 60 days to file an expungement request after the DCFS has indicated you for child abuse or neglect. Once you have filed the request with the DCFS, a neutral administrative law judge must hear your case within 70 days. If you are a child care worker, you will receive an expedited hearing within 35 days. The judge will hear evidence from both sides and file a recommendation on whether to grant your expungement request to the DCFS director within 90 days. If either the judge or the DCFS director denies your expungement request, you can appeal to the circuit court.

Evidence

As with prosecutors in a criminal trial, the DCFS investigators have the burden of proving their suspicions of child abuse or neglect. At the hearing, they must present their findings and show why they reached their conclusion. As part of your expungement request, the DCFS must provide you a copy of the investigation report, which you can examine for:

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Police Blocked from Forcing Defendant to Give Phone PasscodeAn Illinois appellate court recently upheld a lower court ruling that police could not compel a defendant to surrender his passcode in order to access his cellphone. The court determined that forcing the defendant to give up his secured digital information would violate the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects people from self-incrimination. The ruling is the latest development in an ongoing debate about whether the contents of a digital device should be treated as simply data or akin to personal testimony in a criminal case.

Fifth Amendment

In People v. Spicer, the defendant is charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance and possessing a controlled substance with the intent to deliver. During a traffic stop, police allegedly found a pill bottle containing cocaine inside the defendant’s car. A court approved a warrant to search the defendant’s cellphone for supporting evidence, but police could not open the phone because of the passcode. Police sought to compel the defendant to provide the passcode. The court denied the request because it would force the defendant to incriminate himself if there is damaging evidence in the phone’s contents. According to a common interpretation of the Fifth Amendment:

  • The amendment applies when the information is testimonial, incriminating, and compelled; and
  • Providing information such as a passcode is testimonial because it requires the defendant to use the contents of his or her mind.

Some legal scholars claim that the Fifth Amendment should naturally protect information on cellular devices because it is an extension of the user’s mind.

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Actual Physical Controls Allows DUI Charge Without DrivingDespite its name, driving is not a requirement for you to be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Illinois’ DUI law states that a person under the influence of an intoxicating substance cannot drive or be in “actual physical control” of a vehicle. This means that you could be charged with DUI for merely being inside your vehicle while intoxicated. It may not matter to a court that you did not intend to drive if you had the ability to drive the vehicle at a moment’s notice.

Circumstantial Evidence

Illinois law does not define what “actual physical control” is with a vehicle. Courts will judge whether a DUI defendant had actual physical control based on the details of each case. Relevant factors include whether:

  • The vehicle was running;
  • The keys were in the ignition;
  • The defendant possessed the keys;
  • The defendant was in the driver’s seat;
  • Anyone else was inside the vehicle;
  • The defendant owned the vehicle; or
  • There was any evidence that the vehicle had recently been driven.

The evidence against you grows stronger if you were sitting behind the steering wheel or the keys were in the ignition. You are less likely to have had actual physical control if the vehicle did not belong to you or someone who was not intoxicated was inside the vehicle with you.

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Hasty Mistrial Ruling Leads to Double JeopardyThe fifth amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects a defendant from being tried more than once for the same crime, which is known as double jeopardy. The prosecution can seek a second trial with a new jury if the first attempt ended in a mistrial, which most commonly occurs when a jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict. A court may also declare a mistrial if it believes that a jury has been prejudiced to the point that it cannot reach an unbiased verdict. However, a mistrial must be the court’s last resort, after considering other options to preserve the trial. An Illinois appellate court recently ruled that the state could not start a new trial against a defendant because the trial court was not justified in declaring a mistrial in the first prosecution attempt.

Case Details

In People v. Shoevlin, a woman was charged with two counts of domestic battery for allegedly attacking her husband. The two parties were separated at the time of the alleged incident and filed for divorce afterward. The defense built its case on the idea that the husband had an incentive to lie about the incident in order to gain a majority of the parental responsibility for their children. During the closing arguments, the defense said that the man was trying to ruin the woman’s life with the charge because she would likely lose her children. After the statement, the judge privately met with the counsel for both sides, saying that it was inaccurate to claim that the state would take her children away as a condition of her conviction. After deliberating for five minutes, the judge brought the jury back in the room and declared a mistrial. The judge’s reasoning was that:

  • Telling the jury to disregard the defense counsel’s statement would not prevent prejudice; and
  • Discrediting the defense counsel would mean that the defendant would appeal a potential conviction based on ineffective assistance of counsel.

Appeal

When prosecutors started a new trial, the defense motioned to dismiss the trial because it would be subjecting the defendant to double jeopardy. The trial court rejected the motion, but the appellate court reversed that decision. The court stated that it is important to limit a defendant’s prosecution to one trial whenever possible because having multiple trials:

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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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