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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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K-9 Units Less Reliable Than Police BelieveMany police departments have trained K-9 units that alert them to the presence of illegal drugs. In Illinois, dogs are trained to conduct sniff searches for heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and cannabis and to give the handler a response when there is a hit. Courts have ruled that using a K-9 unit is not an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and can create probable cause to conduct a further search for the illegal substances. However, studies show a significant rate of false alerts by K-9 units, which creates doubt about whether an alert from a dog should be enough evidence to allow a police search.

Problem with K-9 Units

Illinois requires dogs in K-9 units to be retested annually to ensure that they are accurate in detecting illegal substances. However, handlers are part of the cause of false alerts in some cases. Dogs are eager to please their handlers and able to pick up on unintentional body language. When a handler is suspicious of a package or vehicle, the dog may give a positive alert in order to affirm that suspicion. The handler can also train the dog to give false alerts by giving it a treat only when it alerts the handler. Despite this potential bias during drug searches, many police departments have not trained their K-9 units to ignore unintentional cues from their handlers.

Court Rulings

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently trusted the accuracy of K-9 unit searches and considered them unobtrusive in most cases:

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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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Required Proof for a Juvenile Drug Possession ConvictionTeenagers sometimes give in to the temptation of experimenting with illegal drugs. While teens may see no harm in trying drugs, being caught in possession of drugs has serious consequences. Your teen may not face the same jail sentence that an adult offender may receive. Courts focus on rehabilitation for juveniles who commit nonviolent crimes. However, a drug offense can limit some of the opportunities available to your teen. For instance, a person convicted of drug possession for the first time cannot receive government student aid for one year. Teens may also face discipline at school and difficulty getting into the college of their choice. Your teen may be able to avoid a costly drug conviction if your defense attorney can show that the circumstances did not meet the legal definition of drug possession.

Knowledge

Prosecutors must prove that the person charged with drug possession knew that they were in possession of an illegal drug. Saying that the teen did not know it was an illegal substance may not be a valid defense depending on the circumstances. Teens can be guilty of drug possession if it is reasonable to believe that they knew they were in possession of an illegal drug. Circumstances may include:

  • How the teen came into possession of the substance;
  • Who gave the drugs; or
  • Whether the substance looks like drugs.

A judge will have difficulty believing that a teen did not know that a leafy substance, powder, or pills were drugs. It is a different matter if the drugs were hidden or disguised and the teen honestly did not understand the situation.

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