Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I HAVE A FELONY: THE PRELIMINARY EXAM

It was a nightmare. The police came to speak with you, they left, they came back and next thing, you were arrested for a felony. Fortunately, your family made bond. Now, your first court date is coming up. Your case is set for the preliminary hearing.

What is a preliminary hearing? Why is it important? What are your options?

The preliminary examination or hearing usually takes place about one month after your bond hearing. At that time, a judge will hear testimony, usually from police, to ascertain whether there was probable cause to arrest you. If the court finds probable cause, the case will then be assigned to the appropriate courtroom dealing with your type of offense. However, if the court finds the officers lacked probable cause, the case is dismissed, and you are probably home free.

A finding of probable cause does not mean you are guilty. The court will normally hear your plea of guilty or innocent on the next court date. The preliminary hearing is not a miniature trial. Your side need not present witnesses, nor is it generally desirable to do so. Usually, the less the state knows about your case the better: Any testimony from your side can be used to impeach your witnesses later. By the same token, your attorney may be able to use the officers’ testimony from the preliminary hearing to impeach them at trial.

The odds are rather high that the court will find probable cause. The burden of proof for probable cause is not a difficult one for the state to make. An experienced criminal law attorney, however, can still be critical even at this juncture. Your attorney can question the state’s witnesses in order to highlight weaknesses in their cse. On limited occasions, those weaknesses are enough to get the case dismissed.

An attorney can also help navigate the best strategy for your situation. For example, the state’s attorney may offer a plea agreement that is too good to refuse. Perhaps the evidence against you on the felony charge is very strong, but the state will reduce charges to an expungeable-type misdemeanor.

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.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves clients in the communities of Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Highland Park, Kenilworth, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Palatine, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

“BUT IT’S JUST A LITTLE WEED!”: WHEN YOU ARE CHARGED WITH POSSESSING AND/OR DEALING MARIJUANA

You like to relax every once and while, and sometimes you even make a little money on the side selling pot. Unfortunately, one of your clients turned out to be an undercover cop. You are now facing charges for the possession and delivery of marijuana.

What can happen to you, and what can you do?

While controversy abounds about whether marijuana is any worse than drinking alcohol, state law treats marijuana possession as a crime. The degree of the offense along with the penalty ranges with the amount of cannabis. If you have less than 2.5 grams of any substance containing cannabis, you can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days. From there, the offense level steps up a degree for each increase in quantity. For example, 10 to 30 grams is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, 30 to 500 grams is a Class 4 felony punishable by 1 to 3 years, and possessing more than 5,000 grams merits a Class 1 felony, punishable by 4 to 15 years. (Source: 720 ILCS 550/4.)

The charges stiffen if you deal or intend to deal cannabis. Then, under 2.5 grams is a Class B misdemeanor while 10 to 30 grams is a Class 4 felony, 30 to 500 grams is a Class 3 felony with a 2 to 5 year sentence and up to a $50,000 fine, and more than 5,000 grams becomes a Class X felony punishable by 6 to 30 years and up to a $200,000fine. (Source: 720 ILCS 550/5.) The charges also increase if this is not your first offense or if you should commit your offense within 1,000 feet of a school or any conveyance used by a school such as a school bus. (See 720 ILCS 550/5.2.)

So what can you do? As in other crimes, the state must still prove the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, the state must prove that you knowingly possessed or delivered the marijuana. Did you know what it was? Does it belong to someone else? Did someone else have access to the place where the marijuana was found? Case law on these questions can be very fact specific. An experienced criminal law attorney can help determine whether you have a viable defense.

As with other offenses, police must have probable cause to search your premises or make an arrest. Was an informant involved and how reliable was that informant? Did any search warrant properly describe the premises where the marijuana was found? Again, an experienced criminal attorney can evaluate the circumstances of your arrest to help prepare your defense.

Even if police followed proper procedure, and the evidence is strongly against you, an experienced attorney may be able to negotiate a more favorable plea agreement.

If you have questions about these charges or other criminal matters, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

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

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves clients in the communities of Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Highland Park, Kenilworth, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Palatine, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg, Wilmette and Winnetka.)