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Notable New Illinois Criminal Laws Starting in 2020When Illinois passes new state laws, many are scheduled to go into effect at the start of the next calendar year. The legalization of recreational marijuana has rightfully garnered most of the attention among the state’s new laws for 2020. Not only will it make it legal to possess as much as 30 grams of cannabis, but many people have already been able to expunge previous marijuana possession convictions. There are other laws going into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, that relate to traffic violations in the state, as well as a law that helps protect the civil rights of people who have been arrested.

Traffic Laws

Driving offenses are among the most common reasons for interaction between police officers and civilians. Illinois often revises its driving laws to address new threats and discourage dangerous behavior by drivers. There are three such laws that will start in 2020:

  1. Watching Video: Illinois is already combating distracted driving by making it illegal to use handheld electronic devices while driving. An update to the law expands the definition to include using devices to watch or stream video. A distracted driving violation will result in a fine and count towards the three traffic tickets in 12 months that it takes to suspend your driver's license. However, distracted driving becomes a Class A misdemeanor if someone is injured and a Class 4 felony if someone dies.
  2. Fine for Passing a School Bus: It is illegal for vehicles in either direction to overtake and pass a school bus that has stopped for the purpose of picking up or dropping off passengers. Illinois has doubled the fines for these violations. A first offense is a $300 fine. A second or subsequent offense is a $1,000 fine.
  3. Scott’s Law: Scott’s Law is Illinois’ new name for the law requiring drivers to yield to emergency vehicles and use caution when approaching a stopped vehicle. Whereas a violation previously required a minimum $100 fine, the minimum fine is now $250 for a first offense and $750 for a second or subsequent offense. A violation that damages another vehicle is a Class A misdemeanor, and a violation that results in injury or death is a Class 4 felony.

Arrest Records

Illinois law has new protections for people who were arrested on suspicion of a crime but were never charged or convicted. The law states that it is a civil rights violation to use someone’s arrest record, juvenile record or criminal record that has been sealed as a reason to deny them:

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U.S. Supreme Court Will Not Rule on Illinois Felony Murder LawDespite the controversy over Illinois’ felony murder law, the state does not seem to be close to amending the criminal law that allows prosecutors to charge certain defendants with first-degree murder despite them not causing the death or intending to kill the victim. The law states that a person who participates in a forcible felony may be charged with murder if someone dies during the incident, including an accomplice in the crime. An Illinois defendant recently appealed his felony murder conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Illinois Supreme Court had upheld the constitutionality of the law. However, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Examples

In the recently appealed case, two men were convicted of murder because they were involved in a burglary incident in which police had killed a third suspect. The three men were burglarizing an electronics store when police officers surrounded the building. The men attempted to flee in a vehicle, and the officers shot at them 77 times. One of the men was killed, and the other two were injured. Illinois’ felony murder law allowed the defendants to be charged with murder even though it was the police officers who shot and killed the third man. One defendant was sentenced to 25 years in prison, while the other was sentenced to 20 years.

In a recent high-profile Illinois case, five teens were initially charged with murder when a property owner shot and killed a sixth teen when they were attempting to burglarize his vehicle. The state’s attorney later dropped the murder charges after public pressure.

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Auto-Brewery Syndrome Can Affect BAC TestAs odd as it may sound, it is possible for someone to ferment alcohol in their gut without having had any alcohol to drink. It is a rare condition known as auto-brewery syndrome or gut fermentation syndrome. People with this syndrome can be falsely suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol because a blood alcohol concentration test will give an inaccurately high reading. If you can prove that you have auto-brewery syndrome, you may be able to get your DUI charges dismissed, but this defense rarely applies.

How It Happens

People develop auto-brewery syndrome because of yeast or bacteria that grow in their gastrointestinal system – the same type of yeast that is used to ferment alcohol. Auto-brewery syndrome is most commonly diagnosed in people who have other conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, Crohn’s disease, and short bowel syndrome. Auto-brewery syndrome can cause the same symptoms as alcohol intoxication, such as:

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of coordination
  • Vomiting
  • Belching
  • Disorientation

Unlike with consuming alcohol, a person with auto-brewery syndrome cannot reasonably predict when these symptoms may occur. Physicians may treat the syndrome by prescribing anti-fungal medicines and recommending that the patient goes on a low-carbohydrate diet.

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Court Rules That Portion of Illinois Stalking Law Infringes on Free SpeechAmericans regularly exercise their right to freedom of speech, which prohibits the federal, state and local governments from creating laws that would hinder free speech or create a chilling effect on free speech due to fear of punishment. However, criminal courts have established exceptions to free speech when the speech constitutes criminal activity. You can be charged for making verbal threats that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their immediate safety. It can be difficult to define the line between free speech and a criminal act, and courts are mindful of laws that may unintentionally punish people for speech that is not criminal. For instance, an Illinois appellate court recently found a section of the state’s criminal code on stalking to be unconstitutional because it was overly broad in its limits on speech.

Recent Case

In People v. Morocho, the defendant was convicted of three counts of aggravated stalking for sending threatening text messages to a woman with whom he had a child. The offense was aggravated stalking because the defendant had allegedly caused a bruise on the woman’s arm from a previous incident. Illinois defines stalking as:

  • Engaging in a course of conduct that the suspect should know would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or suffer other emotional distress
  • Following or surveilling a person on at least two occasions and threatening harm or causing someone to reasonably believe they are threatened

One of the counts that the defendant was convicted for was based on the section of the law that defines stalking as causing someone to “suffer other emotional distress.” On appeal, the defendant argued that this section of the law was overly broad and unconstitutional. The court agreed that the wording of this section could allow people to be prosecuted for lawful speech. It stated that the law separated speech causing emotional distress from speech that causes someone to fear for their safety and that someone could feel distressed from speech that clearly did not fit any definition of stalking. The court reversed the defendant’s conviction on the one count and upheld the other two counts.

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Unreasonable Seizure Can Dismiss Criminal EvidenceHow long are police allowed to wait before requesting a warrant to search a computer they have seized as criminal evidence? An Illinois court determined that eight months is too long in a recent criminal case and suppressed the evidence found on the computer. In People v. McGregory, the state accused the defendant of manufacturing fraudulent credit cards to commit identity theft, based on evidence from equipment seized during an unrelated warrant search of his home. To understand the facts of this case, it may help to start with an explanation of rules regarding searches and seizures.

Lawful Searches

The U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment states that citizens shall not be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. This means police must obtain a warrant to conduct a search of someone that they have probable cause to believe has committed a crime. A warrant authorizes police to search at a specified location and seize specified items that are related to the suspected crime. However, the police may be allowed to seize unspecified items during a lawful search if:

  • They are in plain view.
  • There is probable cause to believe that the items were used in committing a crime.

In People v. McGregory, the police officer had a warrant to search for drugs and weapons but saw equipment that is used to make fake credit cards and cards that had names of people other than the defendant.

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