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Illinois ACLU Study Claims Racial Profiling in Traffic StopsBlack and Latino drivers in Illinois are statistically more likely to be pulled over for a traffic stop and subjected to a search, according to a report recently released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. The ACLU looked at results from nearly 6.5 million traffic stops from 2015 to 2017. Illinois law enforcement agencies collect the data as required by the Illinois Traffic and Pedestrian Stop Statistical Study Act, which the state created in 2003 because of concerns about racial profiling. The ACLU said that law enforcement must end its practice of conducting excessive traffic stops and searches in hopes of finding criminal activity.

Statistics

The study cites several pieces of data in claiming that local and state police agencies disproportionately target minority drivers:

  • Police stopped minority drivers at a higher rate than white drivers, and the disparity increased each year from 2015 to 2017;
  • In 2017, minority drivers were 1.5 times more likely to be stopped than white drivers;
  • Black drivers were subjected to consent searches 1.7 times more often than white drivers, and Latino drivers were 1.3 times more likely;
  • Police officers were 1.3 times more likely to find contraband when searching a white driver’s vehicle than when searching the vehicle of a black or Latino driver.

Stops

The ACLU claims that law enforcement agencies have encouraged officers to be aggressive in conducting traffic stops and subsequent searches. The Illinois State Police supposedly instructed troopers to pull drivers over for all traffic violations because it would increase the chance of encountering someone conducting criminal activity. This instruction put into practice means that the troopers may be predisposed to believe that the drivers they pull over are committing other crimes.

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Why You Should Not Testify in Your Criminal CaseWhen accused of a crime that you did not commit, it is human nature to want to tell everyone that you are innocent and explain why. However, it is almost always a bad idea to put a criminal defendant on the witness stand during his or her trial. There is too much potential for a jury to misconstrue your testimony, ultimately hurting your case. You are better served by making the prosecution prove the charge and letting the evidence speak for you.

Perception

Certain jurors may assume that your decision to not testify is a tacit admission of guilt, even though the court will instruct them to not make that assumption. However, testifying in court could do greater damage to your image. It is difficult to convincingly explain your innocence because your behavior will influence the jury more than your words:

  • Behaving nervously seems like you are trying to hide the truth;
  • Behaving emotionally makes you appear unstable, which is particularly bad if you are accused of a violent crime; and
  • Jurors could interpret a lack of emotion as you being cold and unfeeling.

Cross-Examination

You can practice how to answer questions that your defense attorney will ask you, but the cross-examination is the most dangerous part of testifying. Prosecutors will use the opportunity to ask you a series of tough questions in order to discredit your previous testimony or get you to unintentionally incriminate yourself. Their tactic is to wear you down with persistent and carefully worded questions until you:

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Jail Informants to Face Tougher Vetting in Criminal TrialsIllinois has passed a law that puts greater restrictions on prosecutors using jail informants as witnesses in criminal trials. According to the law:

  • Prosecutors must disclose their intention to use a jail informant at least 30 days before a hearing unless they were unaware of the informant before that deadline; and
  • The court must determine the veracity of the jail informant’s testimony before allowing it to be entered as evidence.

The law previously required vetting of jail informants only in cases involving the death penalty, but Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011. Advocates for the law argued that unreliable informant testimony led to wrongful convictions that were overturned decades later. There have been 19 such cases in Illinois during the past three decades, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

Problems with Informants

A jail informant, also known as a snitch, is an inmate who allegedly heard the defendant make an incriminating statement and agrees to testify against him or her in court. Criminal defense attorneys will question the reliability of informants because prosecutors often offer incentives to informants in exchange for their testimony, such as:

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Court Deems 22-Year Juvenile Prison Sentence UnconstitutionalIllinois criminal law requires courts to add 15 years to a prison sentence if the defendant had a firearm while committing the offense. However, Illinois amended its law regarding juvenile sentencing in 2016 to allow a court to disregard the mandatory sentencing enhancement if it believes it is not appropriate for a juvenile offender. The law instructs the courts to consider:

  • The juvenile defendant’s maturity and ability to consider risks;
  • Outside influences on the defendant;
  • Neglect or abuse at the defendant’s home;
  • The defendant’s potential for rehabilitation;
  • The circumstances of the offense;
  • The role the defendant played in the offense;
  • Whether the defendant participated in his or her defense; and
  • The defendant’s criminal history.

Illinois prisoners have since appealed their juvenile criminal sentences, citing the new law. Courts have ruled that the law does not apply retroactively to juvenile offenders who were sentenced before the law went into effect. However, courts have granted resentencing for a few of these appeals, saying that the sentence was excessive for a juvenile case.

Recent Case

In People v. Barnes, the defendant appealed a 22-year prison sentence he received for an armed robbery he committed when he was 17. Fifteen of the years were mandatory because he had used an unloaded revolver during the robbery. The defendant argued that the 15-year firearms sentence was unconstitutional for a juvenile because it violates the Illinois Constitution’s proportionate penalties clause. The clause is the state’s equivalent to the eighth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects defendants against cruel and unusual punishment for a crime. An Illinois appellate court agreed that the defendant’s sentence went against society’s “evolving standard of moral decency.” The court noted that the defendant:

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Posted on in Criminal Law

Consequences of Lowering the BAC LimitStates will be closely watching the effects of a new Utah law that will lower its blood alcohol concentration limit to 0.05 starting Dec. 30. Utah is the first state to set a BAC limit that is below 0.08, which has been the limit in all states for several years. There is a global precedent for the limit, with about 100 countries having a BAC limit of 0.05 or lower. Other states may follow Utah’s lead if the law corresponds with a decrease in alcohol-related traffic deaths. Critics argue that lowering the BAC limit will do more to increase the number of arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol than it will save lives.

Inexact Science

It is already debatable as to whether the 0.08 BAC limit accurately measures whether a driver is intoxicated. The limit attempts to quantify how much alcohol it takes to impair someone’s driving ability. Different people have different tolerances to alcohol, and not everyone will be impaired with a BAC of 0.08, let alone 0.05. People with a higher alcohol tolerance may show no signs of driving impairment with a BAC of 0.08, which helps them avoid suspicion and arrest. However, police officers may stop and question these drivers for reasons other than showing signs of impairment, such as:

  • Minor traffic violations;
  • Vehicle equipment malfunctions;
  • Sobriety checkpoints; and
  • Traffic accidents caused by another party.

A 0.05 BAC limit makes it more likely that an unimpaired driver will be arrested for DUI.

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