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Illinois Looking to Strengthen Penalties of Move-Over LawIllinois lawmakers have introduced new legislation that would increase the punishment for drivers who violate the “move-over” law, also known as Scott’s Law. The existing law states that drivers must use caution when approaching a stationary emergency vehicle on the side of the road. Scott’s Law is a traffic violation that requires a fine, though it can also be an aggravating factor for charges such as driving under the influence. The changes to the law would expand the punishments for incidents involving property damage or personal injury.

Scott’s Law

The state created the move-over law to protect emergency responders after several had been injured or killed when motorists struck them by the side of the road. The law was named after Chicago Fire Department Lt. Scott Gillen, who died after being hit by an intoxicated driver while responding to a crash. The law states that drivers who are approaching a stationary emergency vehicle must:

  • Proceed with caution;
  • Reduce speed; and
  • Change lanes in order to give the vehicle room, if possible.

The law defines a stationary emergency vehicle as any vehicle that is authorized to be equipped with flashing lights, including the red and blue lights and yellow lights. A conviction is a business offense, punishable by a fine of $100 to $10,000. For incidents involving vehicle damage or personal injury, the offender’s driver’s license can be suspended for 90 to 180 days.

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Marijuana Odor Enough to Permit Vehicle SearchA couple of years ago, Illinois changed its Cannabis Control Act to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana is a civil law violation, punishable by a fine of $100 to $200. The change decreases the number of people who may face misdemeanor drug possession charges for what is a minor offense. However, decriminalization is not the same as legalization, a fact that recently prevented an Illinois defendant from suppressing evidence in a criminal case.

Recent Case

In People v. Rice, the defendant was charged, convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison for possession of a controlled substance. A police officer had stopped the defendant’s vehicle for speeding and decided to conduct a search because he smelt burnt cannabis. During the search, police allegedly found:

  • A small bag containing marijuana on the defendant;
  • Two sealed envelopes containing $37,000 in the vehicle; and
  • A box that contained 1,300 methamphetamine pills.

Probable Cause

The defendant argued that the evidence from the police search should be suppressed because the scent of marijuana did not give the officer probable cause to conduct a search. He cited the change to Illinois law that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana and a Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling. Massachusetts voters had passed a referendum that decriminalized the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. The Massachusetts court determined that the scent of marijuana was no longer enough evidence of criminal activity to conduct a search because the amount that the suspect possesses may not be a criminal offense.

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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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