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Law Would Give Criminal Defense for Breaking into Vehicles to Save AnimalsWhen civilians respond to emergency situations, they often do not have the time to think about the criminal or civil consequences of their actions. For instance, you can be arrested and sued for breaking into someone’s vehicle for the purpose of saving an animal that was suffering from heat exhaustion. The animal may have been at risk of dying, but your actions qualified as criminal trespass to a vehicle and criminal damage to property. The owner of the vehicle could also file a lawsuit seeking compensation for the vehicle damage, even though he or she was negligent in leaving the animal locked in the car. Illinois lawmakers have proposed a bill that would give people an affirmative defense against criminal charges in this scenario, as well as immunity from civil liability.

The Legislation

Illinois law allows law enforcement and emergency services personnel to forcibly enter a vehicle in order to save a trapped animal from heat exhaustion. The proposed legislation would extend a similar permission to civilians. However, there would be several requirements that you would need to follow in order to avoid criminal or civil liability:

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Keeping Minors in Juvenile Court Usually Most AppropriateFor minors accused of committing a crime, there is a vital difference between being tried as a juvenile and being tried as an adult. Juvenile courts can be more lenient towards defendants and have fewer long-term consequences because:

  • The system focuses more on rehabilitation and education;
  • Sentencing periods tend to be shorter; and
  • It is easier to seal or expunge a juvenile offense from someone’s record.

State prosecutors will sometimes be overzealous in charging a juvenile as an adult. A court can dismiss adult charges against a juvenile if the charges are inappropriate based on the defendant's age.

Juvenile vs. Adult

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Recreational Marijuana Would Create New Criminal ChargesIllinois will have a referendum question on the November 2018 election ballot asking whether the state should allow the production and sale of recreational marijuana for people age 21 and older. The results of the referendum will not be binding, but asking voters the question shows that lawmakers are seriously considering legalization. If Illinois does decide to legalize recreational marijuana, the state will have a lot of work to do in order to regulate it, including changing the state’s criminal drug laws. There are several complicated factors involved with legalizing marijuana on a state level:

  1. Quantity Limits: States that allow recreational marijuana put limits on how many plants a person may cultivate and how many ounces they may possess. People using marijuana for medical purposes are generally allowed to grow and possess more.
  2. Public Use: States with legalized marijuana generally do not allow people to use it in public places, including designated smoking areas. The infraction can be a misdemeanor, depending on how much the person has in his or her possession.
  3. Distribution: As with medical marijuana or liquor, only licensed vendors would be allowed to sell recreational marijuana. Selling or delivering marijuana without a license would be a criminal offense.
  4. Underage Possession: Illinois has signaled that there would be an age minimum of 21 in order to possess marijuana. Unlike with underage possession of alcohol, the amount of marijuana that the underage person possesses could change the severity of the charges.
  5. Driving While High: Driving under the influence of marijuana is already a crime in Illinois, with a zero-tolerance policy because the substance is illegal. Driving while high on marijuana would still be a crime. However, lawmakers would need to come up with a new standard for determining when a person’s marijuana use has impaired his or her driving.
  6. State vs. Federal Law: Unless the U.S. Congress changes the law, it will still be a federal crime to possess and distribute marijuana. States have jurisdiction over people who use or sell the substance within their borders. Transporting marijuana over a state line is a federal offense, even if both states allow recreational marijuana.

Growing Pains

Local law enforcement would need time to adjust to the new laws if Illinois legalizes recreational marijuana. There would likely be several arrests as police and the public learn what constitutes legal marijuana possession. A McHenry County criminal defense attorney can help you contest your drug charges, regardless of whether Illinois’ laws change. To schedule a free consultation, call 815-338-3838.

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Contesting a Hit and Run Criminal ChargeAny person involved in a vehicle accident that results in property damage or personal injury has a duty to remain at the scene and report the incident. Police must arrive at the scene to document the incident, and parties involved must exchange contact and insurance information. Leaving the site of an accident prematurely – commonly known as hit and run – is a criminal offense. The charge can be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances:

  • Leaving the scene of an accident involving only property damage is a class A misdemeanor;
  • Leaving the scene of an accident in which a person was injured is a class 4 felony if the offender still reports the accident within a half hour;
  • Leaving the scene of an accident in which a person was injured and not reporting it within a half hour is a class 2 felony; and
  • Leaving the scene of an accident in which a person died is a class 1 felony.

It can be difficult to defend against a hit and run charge because there are few circumstances in which it is appropriate to leave the scene of an accident. There are a couple of ways to successfully argue against the charge:

  1. Mistaken Identity: The person accused may be uninvolved in the incident. Witnesses can make mistakes when identifying a vehicle. Someone other than the owner of the vehicle may have been driving it.
  2. Moving to Safety: Drivers involved in an accident must try to move their vehicle out of the path of oncoming traffic. If the driver does this while the police officer is at the scene, the officer may mistakenly believe that the driver was trying to flee.
  3. Not Aware: Though difficult to prove, a driver may not have known that he or she struck a vehicle and injured a person. The defense will need to show whether it was reasonable for the driver to have been unaware of the accident.
  4. Emergency Situations: A driver in a rush to transport someone to the hospital may cause an accident. A court may excuse someone leaving an accident site due to a medical emergency, as long as that person made a reasonable effort to report the accident later.
  5. Involuntary Intoxication: Being under the influence of an intoxicating substance is not a defense against leaving the scene of an accident. However, someone who was drugged against his or her will may not be responsible for his or her decisions.

Figuring Out Your Defense 

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Illinois Supreme Court Overturns Law on Weapons Possession Near Public ParksIn the interest of public safety, Illinois restricts the areas in which people are allowed to carry weapons. Police may arrest a person who caught in possession of a weapon within 1,000 feet of a:

  • School;
  • Public park;
  • Courthouse;
  • Public transportation facility; or
  • Public housing complex.

It is a class 3 felony to carry a firearm near any of these locations unless the firearm is dismantled or unloaded and in a case. Allowing laws such as this must be weighed against a person’s constitutional right to carry a weapon for self-defense. The Illinois Supreme Court recently ruled that the weapons ban for 1,000 feet around a public park is unconstitutional.

Recent Case

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