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Hal Garfinkel is retained as the defendant's lawyer in the Chicago high profile murder case of Marlen Ochoa-Lopez. Read more...
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If you have engaged in illegal activity, it may be in your best interest to enter plea negotiations with the government, accepting responsibility in exchange for a reduced sentence. It is also important to understand that you must tell the truth as a part of any plea bargain. Prosecutors and judges will treat a defendant more harshly if he or she has lied or misled them during the plea bargaining process. A recent decision from the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago underscores this point.

United States v. Hargis

Lori Hargis faced a common problem among many homeowners in a down economy. She wanted to sell her Kentucky residence but could not find a buyer. She decided to burn the house down and collect on the insurance covering her as a homeowner. In 2007 she hired Leslie White to set the house on fire, which he did in December of that year. Hargis subsequently filed an insurance claim for $866,000 to cover the value of the house and its contents.

It is a federal crime to use any instrument of interstate commerce, such as the mail or internet, to unlawfully damage or destroy a building by means of fire. In 2011, a grand jury indicted Hargis and White on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud by using fire. White entered a guilty plea. The trial judge sentenced White to three years in prison, more than double what the U.S. attorney said the federal sentencing guidelines advised. The judge nonetheless felt the severe sentence was necessary to deter others who might contemplate a similar arson scheme.

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GPTechnology makes police surveillance much easier and, consequently, personal privacy much more difficult to retain. Courts struggle to define the scope of personal privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Even the United States Supreme Court is divided on the issue, leaving lower federal courts to struggle with the implications of increased police monitoring.

United States v. Jones

In the 2012 case United States v. Jones, the Supreme Court held that police must obtain a warrant when attaching a Global-Positioning-System (GPS) tracking device to a vehicle. Federal and state police agencies commonly use such devices to monitor criminal suspects. All nine justices of the Court agreed this constituted a “search or seizure” requiring a warrant under the Fourth Amendment.

But the justices disagreed on their reasoning. Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the Court's principal opinion, said it was a question of property rights. Since the FBI had to physically attach a GPS device to a suspect's car, that constituted a form of trespass, which under a historical reading of the Fourth Amendment required a warrant. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Samuel Alito wrote separately to emphasize their broader concerns over privacy. Justice Alito's opinion, which was joined by three other justices, said the “trespass” issue was “relatively minor” and the real problem was the government's “use of a GPS for the purpose of long-term tracking.” Such surveillance should require a warrant, Justice Alito said, even if there was no physical trespass like attaching a GPS device.

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Post-holiday season, you’re probably headed back to one or two stores to return items. In the hubbub of shopping and busy crowds, you need to be on high alert for increased shoplifting watches. Make sure you carry your item in within a bag and carry the receipt with you in case anyone asks where you got the item. As soon as you enter the store, ask for assistance with returning items. Going with a friend tends to make the process easier. Unfortunately, sometimes retailers can take things a step too far. Being on high alert for theft means that shoppers need to beware retailer allegations of shoplifting. If you have been accused, know your rights and contact a Chicago criminal defense lawyer. Do not let a story bully you into confessing.

Since stores are watching out for shoplifting behavior, the chances of being accused are greater this time of year than any other. Stores are required to have seen you make an attempt to steal something (probable cause) before accusing you of this, but recently stores have been in the national spotlight for detaining customers after racially profiling them.  Stores cannot keep you in a small space without allowing you to leave that room, but some stores and their employees attempt to use threats or intimidation to get to confess to a crime. In the short term, the best thing you can do is cooperate but you also want to watch out for any efforts that are used to try to force you into confessing.

The store does have the right to call the police if they find that you have stolen property on your person. Following this incident, you need to write down all the details about what happened and to immediately contact an Illinois criminal defense attorney. Take your case seriously, as a shoplifting offense could have an impact on your personal record.

Earlier this month, a man was placed under arrest for Aggravated Driving Under the Influence (DUI) when the vehicle he was driving left the highway, crossing into the center median, and struck a stationary police car. According to a report by The Chicago-Sun Times, the man was driving a pick-up truck on I-55 North at around 9:30 p.m. when the truck left the road and collided with the officer’s squad car.

The officer, as well as a police dog who was also in the car, were both killed in the crash. The driver of the pick-up truck was taken to the hospital and was then arrested once he was released.

Driving Under the Influence in Illinois

Any driver who has a blood alcohol content of .08% or greater is driving in violation of Illinois law (keep in mind that minors and commercial drivers are subject to lower limits).

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Right before midnight on October 13th, there was a car crash on the east side of Aurora.  The crash left three people dead and another five injured, when a Dodge Charger drifted into the other lane into a full minivan.  The result of the head-on collision was devastating.  Especially since the driver of the Charger was driving without a license.

The family in the minivan lost two loved members, one was 57 year old Rose Cuanetl and the other was 77 year old Andrea Moyotl.  Two children were critically injured in the accident including the 17 year old driver of the vehicle.  Three males aged nine, twelve and 40 were injured in the wreck as well.  All of the injured passengers are expected to make a full recovery.

The driver of the Charger unfortunately did not recover from his injuries.  Oscar Rodriguez, 28, died from the crash on Broadway Avenue near Hazel Street.  Oscar shouldn’t have been driving at all, but decided to take his girlfriend’s car out for a drive.  There was no news about whether drugs or alcohol were a possible cause of the accident.

Rodriguez had a long rap sheet of traffic violations from all the way in 2003.  That was the first time that he was ticketed for driving without a license.  The State of Illinois has a three page summary of his offenses.  More recently he was cited again in 2009 and 2010.  In 2011, he served just 14 days in jail after pleading guilty in Kane County.

This is not an isolated incident but is fairly common in the state of Illinois.  Secretary of State Spokesperson Elizabeth Kaufman said that between 2010 and 2012 there has been more than 125,000 cases of people driving without a license.  That does not include those who have been driving with suspended or revoked licenses.  If you are driving with a revoked license there are ways to restore your eligibility to drive that does not involve breaking the law and putting yourself at more risk.  Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Cook County today.

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