Monday, May 2, 2011

'BUT I WAS JUST VISITING!": WHEN YOU ARE CHARGED WITH BRINGING CONTRABAND INTO A PRISON OR JAIL

Your loved one is in trouble. You went to see them at the police lockup or in the jail. Or maybe it’s just visiting day at the prison. You knew you couldn’t bring in drugs or weapons, but all you had was your cell phone. Unfortunately, you also let your loved one make a call. Now you are charged with bringing contraband into a penal institution, a Class 1 Felony.

What is contraband under the law? What can you do?

Recent changes to Illinois law have made it a Class 1 Felony to bring into or even possess electronic contraband at a penal institution such as a jail, prison, police lock up or even a halfway house. Electronic contraband is defined as “any electronic, video recording device, computer, or cellular communications equipment, including, but not limited to, cellular telephones, cellular telephone batteries, videotape recorders, pagers, computers, and computer peripheral equipment brought into or possessed in a penal institution without the written authorization of the Chief Administrative Officer.” ( See 720 ILCS 5/31A-1.1. or http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/documents/072000050K31A-1.1.htm. )

In one recent Chicago case, a volunteer legal aid attorney was charged with a Class 1 Felony for bringing in a cell phone to a police lock up. (See http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-04-02/news/ct-met-lawyer-charged-phone-0403-20110402_1_police-interview-police-stations-criminal-defense-lawyers .)

Besides electronic equipment, you cannot bring in alcohol, drugs, hypodermic syringes, firearms, devices that defeat security mechanisms such as handcuff keys or lock picks and tools that can cut through metal. Bringing in drugs, syringes, weapons, lock picks, metal cutters and electronic devices are Class 1 Felonies punishable by 4 to 15 years in prison and up to a $25,000 fine. Alcohol is a Class 4 Felony (1 to 3 years), while cannabis or marijuana is a Class 3 (2 to 5 years). Firearms, ammunition or explosive devices carries the stiffest charge with a Class X Felony (minimum of 6 years).

To prove that you brought in contraband, the State must show that you knowingly and without authorization brought the contraband into a penal institution or caused someone else to do it, or left the contraband where an inmate could get it. To prove possession, the State need only show that you had the contraband regardless of your intention. Whether you are charged with possession or bringing in, the penalties are the same. Therefore, even if you inadvertently brought your cell phone into the lock up, you could be charged with the Class 1 felony.

Do you have a defense? As with most criminal charges, the State must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. An experienced criminal attorney can assess the evidence against you to probe for holes in the State’s case. As an element of bringing in contraband, the state must show that you did it knowingly. With possession, the intent is not required, however, you may still have a defense if you had authorization either by regulation or court order.

If you are charged with bringing in or possessing contraband, contact a criminal law attorney immediately. Do not make any statements to the police or to anyone else. Any attempt to defend yourself could backfire. Do not discuss your case on any electronic media.

If you have questions about this or another criminal matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Des Plaines, Glencoe, Glenview, Highland Park, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Northbrook, Northfield, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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