Wednesday, July 29, 2015

THE LAW ON PROVING POSSESSION OF DRUGS OR WEAPONS IN ILLINOIS

The police are at your door with a search warrant or maybe they’ve stopped your car for a traffic ticket. In either case, they uncovered drugs, weapons or some other contraband. Can they prove the illegal goods are really yours?

Unless you’re caught red-handed, the state can show the contraband is yours through the doctrine of “constructive possession.” To do so, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt: 1) that you had knowledge of the contraband and 2) that you exercised immediate and exclusive control over the area where the goods were found. This evidence can be circumstantial.

A recent Illinois appellate case provides a good illustration of the law. (See People v Maldonado.) In Maldonado, the court reversed defendant’s convictions for possessing heroin and ammunition. The state did not prove that the defendant had control over the premises where the search took place. Although the state had three pieces of mail addressed to defendant at the premises, it still could not show that the defendant had been near the contraband or even at the site.

Mail addressed to a defendant where contraband is recovered may prove possession if the defendant is at the scene during the search. However, mail alone may not be enough if the defendant is not present and there is little other evidence to show the defendant lives at the search premises.

The court contrasted the facts in Maldonado with a prior case where defendant had keys to both the home and the bedroom where the drugs were found, listed the search premises on his driver’s license, received mail at that location and gave the premises as his address to his parole officer.

If you are charged with this or a similar offense, contact an experienced criminal law attorney immediately. An attorney can review your case for your best possible defense. Even if the evidence against you is overwhelming, an attorney, who is respected at the courthouse may be able to negotiate a more favorable plea agreement than you can on your own.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois 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, July 13, 2015

THE CRIMINAL BURDEN OF PROOF IN ILLINOIS

Under our system of government, you are innocent until proven guilty.

For most crimes, this means the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt all the elements of a crime, and that the defendant committed that crime. For example, if you committed a retail theft, the prosecution must prove that 1) you 2) knowingly 3) took possession of merchandise 4) from a retail store 5) with the intention of keeping it and 6) without paying.

Beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean beyond any doubt at all, it just means beyond all reasonable doubt. While this is a relatively high burden for the prosecution, the reality is that different judges and juries have very different ideas about what “beyond a reasonable doubt” really means. Some judges may find you guilty on the exact same facts that another judge might use to acquit you. That is why it is so important for your attorney to have some knowledge about the judges in a courthouse.

Some issues that arise in criminal court, however, do not require the stricter beyond a reasonable doubt standard of proof. If you are charged with open alcohol or another minor offense, the burden of proof may be the lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard, in which the prosecutor need only show it was more likely than not that you committed the crime.

If the defendant brings a motion to quash an arrest or suppress the evidence that police seized during an arrest, the defendant must prove that the police acted improperly under the lower preponderance of evidence standard.

A DUI requires the state to prove you were driving or had control of a vehicle while impaired beyond a reasonable doubt. However, a petition to challenge the Secretary of State’s automatic suspension of your driving privileges is a civil proceeding, even though it is conducted in the same criminal court as your DUI. You, the defendant, now have the burden of proving by preponderance of the evidence that there were no reasonable grounds for the arrest or that the officer did not read you the warnings to motorists.

If you have been charged with a criminal offense, contact an experienced criminal law attorney immediately. An attorney can review your case for its best possible defense. Perhaps the state cannot meet its burden of proof. An experience attorney can probe the weaknesses in the state’s case to help present your case in its most favorable light.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois 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.)