Monday, December 28, 2009

'I THOUGHT I WOULD HAVE THE MONEY": WHEN YOU BOUNCE A CHECK DUE TO INSUFFICIENT FUNDS

You have never been very good about managing money, but somehow you have always put enough money in your checking account in time for your checks to clear. Until now. You just wrote some checks, figuring you’d have the money in the bank before they went through, but somehow it just didn’t happen. Now you are being charged with a Class A Misdemeanor or possibly even a Class 4 Felony for issuing bad checks.

In Illinois, you may be guilty of a deceptive practice if you issue a check exceeding $150.00 in payment for credit, property, labor or services, knowing that you have insufficient funds, and if you failed to make the check good within seven days of receiving actual notice that your check has bounced. You are presumed to have the necessary intent to defraud if your check bounces two times at least seven days apart, or if you didn’t have enough funds to cover your check when the check was delivered. When you are hit with a Class A Misdemeanor, you face a maximum of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. A Class 4 Felony is punishable by 1 to 3 years in state prison and a larger fine. Plus, the person who received the check can still sue you in civil court.

What can you do? First and foremost, do not make any statements to anyone, especially police. Any attempt to explain or justify your actions may be used against you and jeopardize your defense. What sounds like a reasonable excuse to you may only dig you in deeper with police.

Once at court, an experienced attorney can help you weigh your options. Under some circumstances, you may be able to prove that you lacked the intent required under the statute. Maybe someone bounced a check to you putting your own account in the hole.

But what if you really knew your checks would bounce? An attorney can still help you negotiate a plea agreement. In some cases, a number of individual counts may be dismissed in exchange for a guilty plea to one of the charges. In any event, the state must prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and an attorney can help assess whether the state has enough evidence to do so.

In this job market, a deceptive practices charge on your record could cost you a lot more than a fine or some jail time. You might lose a great job opportunity as well. It is imperative that you explore your options with a qualified attorney. If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or matt@mattkeenanlaw.com

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I HAVE A FELONY. WHAT CAN I EXPECT?

You saw some designer jeans that you couldn’t resist, so you stuffed them into your bag. When store security stopped you, the merchandize you had shoplifted cost more than $150, enough to make your offense a Class 3 felony in Illinois, punishable by a prison term of 2 to 5 years. Or maybe your crime involved an offense such as carrying drugs, concealing a weapon, committing a battery, burglarizing or even getting stopped for DUI one time too many.

These offenses and more can result in your being charged with a felony. In Illinois, a felony can range from a Class 1 to a Class 4. In addition, Class X felonies are reserved for particularly severe offenses such as murder and sexual assault on a child. Penalties for a first offense in many cases may still result in probation, but some felonies carry mandatory minimum prison terms. If convicted, a Class X felony calls for a mandatory minimum term of 6 years.

If you are charged with a felony, what kind of legal procedures can you expect? In the Circuit Court of Cook County, such as the Skokie or Maywood courthouses, after going into custody, you will be granted a bond hearing. At the bond hearing, the court will set the amount of bail necessary to permit your release from jail. In all likelihood, the State will argue for the Court to set the highest bond possible, or in some cases, to deny bond altogether. An experienced attorney can help present those factors most likely to persuade a particular judge to set a reasonable bail.

About a month after the bond hearing, your case will be set for a preliminary hearing, that is a hearing to establish whether the police had probable cause to charge you. An experienced attorney can help by asking the right questions to create doubt about whether the police had a valid reason to stop you. A successful preliminary hearing can result in the charges being dismissed.

At the next court date, you will be brought for arraignment, where you enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If you plead guilty, you will automatically give up many of your rights, such as the right to test the evidence against you. Your case may then be over, but you may end up with a stiffer penalty than if you fight the charges. If you enter a not guilty plea, the process of discovery begins. Your attorney will ask to see any evidence against you. After assessing this evidence, the attorney may negotiate a plea agreement or take your case to trial.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a felony, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or matt@mattkeenanlaw.com. It is important that you not speak about this case with anyone other than an attorney, so as to avoid jeopardizing any defense you may have. Any communications about a case on Facebook or similar web pages should be removed.

Monday, November 2, 2009

BUT I WAS BELOW THE BLOOD ALCOHOL LIMIT!: HOW YOU CAN STILL BE ARRESTED FOR DUI EVEN WITH A BREATHALYZER UNDER .08

You know you didn’t pause on that stop sign quite long enough, and now just your luck, a cop has pulled you over. After approaching your window, the cop looks at you a little strangely and then asks you to take some field sobriety tests. You figure you didn’t have that much to drink, so you agree. After you walk the line and stand on one foot, the officer asks you to take a breathalyzer. You think about your right to refuse, but again figure you didn’t have that much to drink. After you blow a .07, you sigh with relief, figuring you are off the hook. So you are surprised when the officer charges you with Driving while Under the Influence.

Can you be charged with and/or convicted of DUI when you are below the legal blood alcohol limit? The answer is yes. In Illinois, the state’s blood alcohol limit of .08 only represents a presumption that you have been driving while intoxicated. While a breathalyzer reading below .08 can help disprove a presumption of drunk driving, it does not prevent the State from relying on other evidence such as slurred speech, inability to walk a line, glassy eyes and erratic driving.

Can you still fight the charges? Absolutely. The State has the burden to prove a DUI beyond a reasonable doubt. An experienced attorney can help probe the weaknesses in the state’s case and improve your chances of obtaining a not guilty verdict.

Even if your breathalyzer is at or just slightly over .08, you may still be able to fight a charge of drunk driving. Once again, the .08 limit is only a legal presumption. An experienced attorney may help you present other evidence to show that your driving was not impaired.

If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or matt@mattkeenanlaw.com for advice.

See our related DUI blog at http://duilawyerskokie.com.

Monday, October 26, 2009

CAN THEY DO THAT? SCHOOL SEARCHES OF STUDENTS FOR DRUGS AND WEAPONS

Your high school student just got into the worst trouble of his life. School security searched his locker. After finding some narcotics, the principal demanded the keys to your 17-year-old son’s car and then proceeded to rip apart your trunk. That’s when the principal found a weapon: your husband’s favorite camping knife. Now your son faces expulsion from school. Worse yet, the school turned the matter over to the police, and your son is now being charged with a crime.

While you don’t condone the use of drugs and the Swiss knife was an oversight, you think the school overreacted. Anyway, doesn’t your son have any rights? And what can you do now?

While Illinois schools are bound by the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, they may have greater leeway in conducting a search than your local police. For one thing, a school official need not obtain a search warrant provided he or she has reasonable grounds for believing that the search will turn up evidence that your child has violated school rules. For another, because lockers are considered school property, the school is allowed to randomly search your child’s locker.

But this doesn’t mean that a school can get away with everything. The school cannot search your car without your permission if your child is a minor. If your child is an adult, he or she must consent to the search unless the school obtains a warrant. The school must also point to specific facts, which led officials to infer that your child had done something wrong.

If your child is being disciplined and/or prosecuted as a result of a search or seizure, there may still be hope. In Illinois, a school generally cannot suspend or expel your child without some form of hearing. Your are also entitled to a hearing in the criminal or juvenile court. An attorney can help evaluate your child’s case in order to determine the best defense strategy before the school and the criminal court. Did the school have the specific, articulated facts required to justify the search? Can the search of the car be suppressed because the school lacked the appropriate consent? Does your child have exclusive access to his locker or could someone else have slipped the drugs into it?

Whether the incident is or isn’t charged in a criminal or juvenile court, you and your child should not communicate with anyone but an attorney about the incident, whether by speaking, texting or emailing. Statements made to friends could end up as evidence against your child. Equally important, you and your child should refrain from discussing the incident on any Facebook, Myspace or similar pages. Any references to the incident should be removed.

If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

See our related school law blog at http://northshoreschoollaw.com.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"BUT MY CHILD DIDN'T START IT": WHEN YOUR CHILD IS FACING SUSPENSION, EXPULSION OR JUVENILE COURT CRIMINAL CHARGES FOR FIGHTING

You’ve been hearing complaints from your high school student about some other kids at school. They keep harassing him, and the school doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it. While you don’t condone violence, you really can’t blame your child for not wanting to take it anymore. But now your student is facing disciplinary action: suspenion as well as possibly expulsion for fighting and/or juvenile court charges for assault or battery.

If your child is expelled, you will have to deal with finding an alternative place for them to go to school. This can be costly. An expulsion could also affect your child’s choice of college. Even a suspension can cause difficulties with later life choices. If your child gets in trouble at school a second time, the penalty might be that much more severe because of the initial incident.

In some cases, your child may be charged in juvenile court. Your child could end up with a juvenile criminal record.

What can you do? If the incident is charged in juvenile court, your child will be entitled to a hearing before a judge. At the high school level, your child cannot lose his or her right to attend school without first receiving procedural due process. In most cases, your student is entitled to a hearing, although not always before the suspension takes effect. In many districts, only the school board may expel your student, and you may have a right to a hearing at that stage as well.

An experienced attorney can help evaluate your child’s case to determine the best strategy to defend your child. Did the school follow its own procedural rules? Was your child an innocent bystander or acting in self defense? Even if your child started the fight, an attorney can help judge the strength of the evidence against them and can help challenge the severity of the penalty. Maybe your school has some alternative conflict resolution program.

If there is a juvenile court case, an attorney can evaluate how to proceed. You may wish to take the matter to hearing in hopes of getting the charges dismissed. If the evidence is extremely strong against your child, it might be advisable for the attorney to work out a plea arrangement.

Whether the incident is or isn’t charged in juvenile court, you and your child should not communicate with anyone but an attorney about the incident, whether by speaking, texting or emailing. Statements made to friends could end up as evidence against your child. Equally important, you and your child should refrain from discussing the incident on any Facebook, Myspace or similar pages. Any references to the incident should be removed.

If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com

Monday, September 21, 2009

"I MEANT TO PAY FOR IT": WHEN YOU ARE ACCUSED OF SHOPLIFTING

You are visiting your favorite big box store. You picked up a couple DVDs that you were thinking of purchasing, but then got distracted and walked out the door with them. Before you knew it, security was after you, and you are now facing retail theft charges. What can you expect?

You may be hoping that the store will let it go, and the charges against you might then be dismissed. But in this recession economy, the store’s employee will most likely be ready and eager to testify. Because of the drain that shoplifting takes on retailers, many stores are highly aggressive about prosecuting these crimes, particularly big box and department stores.

So what can you do? When you are first brought in before security, you are best advised to request an attorney and not answer questions. Any attempts to explain yourself may be used against you and might undermine any defense you might later wish to present.

Once at court, an experienced attorney can help you weigh your options. Maybe you were extremely stressed and really did forget you had the DVDs in your cart. Maybe the evidence against you is weak. An attorney can help determine whether you should take the case to trial.

But what if you really meant to take the DVDs? If the evidence against you is too strong to risk a trial, you may still have options. There may be alternatives to a conviction such as attending a special school. Your attorney might help work out a plea agreement. For example in Illinois, you might be able to take “supervision,” which is technically not a conviction. Then, if you meet certain requirements, you might be able to expunge your arrest five years after a successfully discharged supervision.

In this job market, a retail theft charge on your record could cost you a lot more than a fine or some community service. It is imperative that you explore your options with a qualified attorney. If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

Friday, July 10, 2009

"IT'S NOT WHAT YOU THINK!": WHEN VISITING AN INAPPROPRIATE WEBSITE CAUSES YOU TROUBLE

You are a dedicated public school teacher. Your students adore you. You have even received awards for your innovative teaching techniques. So it is with great dismay that you find yourself hauled into the principal’s office. It appears you have been visiting some websites on school time that your district deems inappropriate, even pornographic.

You know it looks funny, but you really do have a legitimate explanation for visiting those sites. You are afraid if you say anything, however, you could still lose your job. You may even face criminal charges.

In Illinois, anyone who knowingly possesses any film, videotape, photograph or computer depiction of any child engaged in a sexual act, or in a “lewd exhibition of the unclothed or transparently clothed” private regions or partially or fully clothed female breast, is guilty of a Class 3 felony with a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000 and a maximum fine of $100,000.

What can you do?

If you find yourself in this or a similar situation, you should consult an attorney immediately. An experienced attorney can evaluate your options and present your defense in the best light possible. Swift action on your attorney’s part may prevent you from losing your job and may even lessen the risk of criminal charges being brought.

Was the site truly indecent? The definition of obscenity can be somewhat vague. At one time, even birth control literature violated indecency laws. Maybe your employer is unduly sensitive and finds material that is legally acceptable to be offensive. Maybe you were unaware that you were in possession of these materials. Perhaps someone with access to your computer had visited these locations. Even if you knowingly visited the site and it does look bad, however, you might really have a legitimate and believable reason for visiting there.

Should you find yourself accused of accessing indecent materials, it is imperative that you not speak to anyone except your attorney about your case. Comments or emails to friends could come back to haunt you and could undermine any defense you may later choose to make. You should remove any Facebook or similar pages that might contain comments about your situation. If you have questions, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160. While my email address is matt@mattkeenanlaw.com, it may not be advisable to email in case your computer files should become subject to a search.

See our related school law blog at http://northshoreschoollaw.com.

Friday, March 20, 2009

BUT I JUST TEXTED: HOW SEXTING CAN GET YOU IN TROUBLE.

You just broke up with your girlfriend from school, and you’re upset. You don’t think she treated you right, so to get even with her, you’ve texted those nude photos you took on your cell phone in better days to ten of your friends.

Or maybe, you think your steady looks fantastic, and you just were showing off. Or you thought if that special someone saw what they were missing, you might get that first date.

If you sent nude pictures via texting, there’s a new name for what you did: Sexting. Maybe sexting made you feel better about that girlfriend or proud of your steady for the moment. But the consequences of sexting, such as a conviction for child pornography, can follow you around for the rest of your life.

Concerned with the rising tide of sexting, prosecutors and school officials are looking to set examples, not without some reason. Some offenders have used sexting to solicit nude photos of young people. In one Ohio case, the sexting victim was harassed and committed suicide. Because of cases like these, the Illinois Attorney General has asked victims of sexting to call its Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

But in the absence of laws tailored to this new technology, prosecutors are relying on the more severe child pornography laws even against defendants, who are themselves high school students. In Illinois, you may have committed a Class 1 felony if you 1) filmed, videotaped or photographed any one that you should have known was under the age of 18 in lewd exhibitions of nudity or 2) knowing the contents of those pictures, you distributed them, i.e. via texting.

If found guilty, you may face a prison term ranging from 15 to 30 years along with fines between $1,000 and $100,000 dollars for each offense. You may also land on the sex offender registry. As a student, you may be expelled. Today, more schools are disciplining students for offenses, even if the activity took place off school grounds. In this case, sexting technology can cause something that took place outside the school to enter the school’s domain.

Even if the victim is over the age of 18, you could still be charged for harassment or for an obscenity offense.

If you think you might be charged because of sexting, contact an attorney immediately. Don’t speak to anyone about your case because those statements could be used against you. Sometimes an attorney can even help prevent charges from being brought. Even if you are charged, your case may not be hopeless. You might reasonably have believed the victim was over the age of 18. You may not have been the one who sent the text. Maybe you forwarded something without knowing the contents. If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact me at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

THE DRUGS AREN'T MINE: WHEN YOU ARE CHARGED WITH POSSESSION OF NARCOTICS

You’ve just been arrested for possession of a controlled substance. Maybe it’s marijuana or cocaine or methamphetamine or even heroin. Maybe the substance was mailed to you in a package or the police found it in your car or the apartment you share with a roommate. Whatever the circumstances, you say the drugs aren’t yours. Can you get your case dismissed?

To prove possession of a controlled substance, the state must show: 1) you knew about the presence of the drugs, and 2) the drugs were in your immediate and exclusive control. The police do not have to show you had the drugs on your person. Constructive possession is enough. For example, the drugs are in your closet and no one else has the keys to your home.

Since actual knowledge is difficult to prove, the state can infer that you knew about the narcotics from your acts, declarations or conduct. Maybe you threw the package out the car window to conceal it. Or you made up several conflicting stories about the package and who it was for. Sometimes, the fact you opened a package addressed to you can be enough. At other times, your knowledge can be inferred from your control of the package, as when you tried to conceal the narcotics.

While the state must show the drugs were in your immediate and exclusive control, the fact that others had access to your drugs may not be enough to get an acquittal. Possession may be held jointly. You may be in a car with three other people when a police officer, in a routine stop, finds cocaine under the seat. The police may charge you even if you really didn’t know about the drugs.

The law regarding drug offenses can be very fact specific. A lot can also depend on who your judge is. If you are charged with a narcotics offense, your best chances lie in seeking legal counsel as early as possible. If you are placed under arrest, do not talk to the police and instead ask to speak with an attorney. An experienced attorney can determine whether the police violated your Fourth Amendment rights when they arrested you. An attorney can also guide you toward the best defense if your case should go to trial. If you have any questions, feel free to call me at 847-568-0160 or email me at matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

THE NEW ILLINOIS DUI DRIVING MONITOR DEVICES

As of January 1, 2009, Illinois has a new system for permitting first time DUI offenders to drive. The Monitoring Device Driving Permit (MDDP) allows a qualified driver more leeway than the old system, but involves a new set of rules and costs.

Prior to this year, first time DUI offenders could request a Judicial Driving Permit in order to drive to work. The permit outlined specific routes and times to drive. The new MDDP allows a driver to use the car at any time and drive anywhere once a Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device (BAIID) is installed.

When you are charged with a DUI, the Secretary of State automatically suspends your driver’s license for a certain period. The new law has doubled these time periods. Your license is suspended for 6 months if you do take the breathalyzer and 12 months if you don’t. Please keep in mind that an experienced attorney may be able to fight a driving suspension, and that if you have been drinking, you will have a greater chance of winning your case if you refuse the breathalyzer.

To qualify for an MDDP, you must be a first offender for a DUI with no previous conviction or supervision for DUI within the last five years. You must be at least 18 years old and have an otherwise valid driver’s license. Your DUI must not have resulted in death or great bodily harm and you cannot be previously convicted of reckless homicide or aggravated DUI involving death.

Once the Judge approves your MDDP, you must pay to have the BAIID installed on your car. You must then pay up to $30 per month to the Secretary of State for administration. The entire Secretary of State fee is due up front. Then you must pay a private company for installation at an average cost of $150 with average monthly fees of $115.

The BAIID operates like a portable breathalyzer machine. You must blow into the BAIID before starting the car. The BAIID analyzes your alcohol level and will not let you start the car unless you are below .025. (The legal limit in Illinois is .08) The BAIID records its activity.

The BAIID also requires that you perform a retest at random intervals. If you fail the retest while driving, your car will begin honking repeatedly to alert law enforcement. The car also honks if you tamper with the BAIID.

Other rules include taking your BAIID-car for retesting within 5 days upon notice and at least every 30 days, or you will be permanently locked out. You must keep a journal of problems with using the BAIID including any failures to pass a test or retest.

If you have any question about the new rules, feel free to contact me or another attorney. You can reach me at matt@mattkeenanlaw.com or call 847-568-0160. Also see our related DUI blog at http://duilawyerskokie.com

CAN I PLEASE GO NOW? WHEN A POLICE STOP BECOMES A SEIZURE.

You are sitting in an empty parking lot late at night when a police car pulls up behind you. The officer says he needs to ask you a few questions. You start worrying about that joint you hid in your wallet or that open beer bottle under your seat. You just want to leave. Can you?

The police can make three types of stops. The first type involves the polices’ community caretaking function. An officer can ask you to voluntarily cooperate in giving information. The officer need not have a specific basis to stop you. However, you need not answer any questions, and you can walk away.

The second type is an investigatory stop. Now, the officer must have a reasonable and articulable suspicion of wrongdoing at the time he or she made the stop. The officer cannot act on a hunch and cannot justify the stop after the fact just because illegal activity was discovered. This type of stop must be brief and non-intrusive. You may still refuse to answer any questions and you are still free to go.

The third type of stop is a seizure or detention under the Fourth Amendment. In other words, you are no longer free to leave. Before seizing you, the police must have probable cause to believe you have commited a crime.

If you are ever stopped by the police, ask them “Am I free to go?” If the answer is no, then you have been seized and the police must have probable cause to detain you. The police may indicate that you have been detained in some other fashion: They may block your car. They may activate their signal lights. They may use physical force.

If you do get detained, my advice is to stay calm. Do not consent to a search of your car or personal effects. Also, do not answer any questions. You may think you are explaining your way out of a situation only to dig yourself deeper into a hole. If you are arrested, you should immediately request an attorney. Feel free to contact me at matt@mattkeenanlaw.com or 847-568-0160.

See our related DUI blog at http://duilawyerskokie.com.