Monday, September 16, 2013

I'VE NEVER BEEN IN TROUBLE BEFORE! DOESN'T THAT MATTER?

You’ve never been in trouble before. That retail theft or marijuana bust is your first arrest of any kind. You've never even blown a stop sign. Doesn’t that help?

The answer is yes and no. A first offender may be eligible for a lighter sentence than a repeat offender. However, your otherwise good character doesn’t really matter when it comes to determining your guilt or innocence.

We’ve all seen the TV shows where the defendant asks a friend to vouch for his good character in order to prove he couldn’t have committed the crime. But it doesn’t work that way in real life. In the legal system, the fact you are a good person does not make it any more or less likely that you committed a particular crime than if you were a bad person. The state still has to show whether you are guilty of a particular offense.

Contrary to TV law, a defense attorney will avoid the character issue until sentencing. At trial, putting on evidence of good character opens the door for the state to put on evidence of bad character. If you say you’re a good family person who goes to church and holds a job, the state can bring up the time you were suspended in high school or that you party a lot.

Good character can be relevant once your guilt is established. While Illinois law imposes certain sentencing guidelines, penalties often become stiffer with subsequent offenses. The court may be more lenient if your offense is clearly a one-time deal. At that point, it might help to talk about all that volunteer work you do or the fact that you always shovel the walk for your elderly neighbor.

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

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

Monday, September 2, 2013

RETAIL THEFT: SECOND OFFENSE AND BEYOND

Retail theft the second time around can be a much more complicated affair than your first offense. Repeat offenses may lead to stiffer charges, violation of supervision, and a conviction that stays on your record.

For starters, a second offense involving property under $300 is upgraded from a Class A Misdemeanor to a Class 4 felony if you have a prior conviction. While the misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in prison, the felony could net you 1 to 3 years. (Offenses over $300 are Class 3 felonies for first or greater offenses, punishable by 2 to 5 years.)

The timing and disposition of your first offense could mean big trouble for your second. Did you receive supervision for the first offense or was your case dismissed? If supervision, then your second offense could land you a conviction. While a supervision may be cleared or expunged from your record entirely, a conviction may at best be sealed. As a crime of honesty, a retail theft can make you undesirable to employers.

If you were still serving a sentence or term of supervision on your first offense, a second offense could become a violation of that sentence. Now you can be resentenced on the first offense, charged separately for the violation, and still have to deal with the new charges. If you were not yet sentenced on the first offense, you may have violated the conditions of your bond.

Even if you are charged with a repeat retail theft, all is not hopeless. Contact an experienced criminal law attorney to review your case for the best possible defense. Retail theft is a crime of intent. The state must prove that you meant to keep the merchandise permanently. Maybe you were distracted by your children or just forgot the item was in your cart. Even if the evidence against you is overwhelming, an experienced attorney who is respected in the courthouse may be able to work out a more favorable plea agreement than you could on your own. Do not talk about your case to third parties, particularly the police. What you think is a rational explanation may give the prosecutor the evidence he or she needs to convict you.

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

The retail theft statute can be found at Illinois Retail Theft Law.

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