Felony Murder

In a bizarre case, a 75-year-old licensed gun owner came out of his home to approach a group of teens that appeared at his house in the early morning Tuesday driving a Lexus that turned out to be stolen. He apparently believed the group was threatening as one of the teens started to move forward towards him despite his protests for them to leave. After that, he pulled out his revolver and fired at least three bullets towards the group which scattered them. Unfortunately, one of them was hit in the head area and would die. This teen was a 14-year-old boy. The other five teens scrambled into the Lexus and headed off with their wounded friend in tow. They actually made it to some officers who got the wounded boy to a hospital but after his death, four were somehow able to escape in the stolen Lexus and create a large chase that took a while. The four made it to North Halsted and West Randolph before running out of gas. All four were charged with first degree murder due to their friend dying in the commission of a felony. This is what is called Felony murder, and it allows the state to charge someone for a person’s death even if they don’t directly kill them. Alice Yin, Dan Moran, Annie Sweeney, and Jason Meisner of the Chicago Tribune have the full story.

Plenty of controversy surrounds the case which isn’t surprising since it involves guns, the death of a kid, and the application of a controversial law towards juveniles. All four are being charged as adults while only one is actually 18 years old. This is a complicated, tragic case. No matter what you think, a young boy is dead and that is awful. A seventy-five year old man who seemed like he was in no way being malicious shot his gun in self-defense and a young kid making a terrible mistake died. That has got to be hard on him and it seems likely he’ll be dealing with legal and civil questions for a bit. The bar for this kind of use of deadly force of self-defense is when you find yourself faced with an imminent and importantly deadly threat where you believe there is a reasonably deadly threat to your person or another. It’s a higher bar than regular self-defense against non deadly force which just outlines “unlawful” force as the condition for which one can use regular force against. It should be noted that a Bowie knife was found at the scene of the crime so that could be an indication that there was a reason to believe the man firing had a justifiable fear for his own life. This comes along with the fact that this whole debacle appeared to be an attempted home invasion in a stolen car. But we need more information to be released to the public to be certain. It is highly recommended you read the article as it covers many of the angles relatively quickly.

I wanted to touch on the aspect of the other teens being charged for their accomplices death. This is one of those few issues that can be expanded upon without needing significantly more public information because it mainly comes down to principle. Some cases are so horrible that a juvenile needs to be charged as an adult like this, but in this context it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It feels like there is a general anger and hole that people want to fill in place of this fourteen year old’s death with some kind of justice. Certainly justice should be had, but is this actually justice? When thinking of crimes so bad that children should be charged as adults, my first go to would be looking at intent. Did these teens in any way when taking the stolen car that night towards the targeted home have any intention whatsoever of harming their friend? No. Did they have any intention of harming the man in the house? We don’t know, more facts will have to come out. So we don’t know if that had any intent whatsoever to harm anyone that night. Obviously people can point to the felony murder statute as why these kids can be tried as adults but just because you clear the bar for something doesn’t mean you should proceed with it. Can does not equal should, and just because the DA can get this charge to stick doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a gross injustice to see it happen. When thinking over whether the justice system should be used for rehabilitation, punishment, or both, it seems society has taken a step forward in the last few years to saying “both.” Charging these children with first degree murder won’t provide any type of rehabilitation, just punishment. And remember, these likely aren’t some sadists committing a thrill kill but rather stupid kids doing something stupidly dangerous. This feels like something where the perpetrators can be genuinely helped and led toward a better life. It won’t happen with a first degree murder charge. Plus, is ideally what felony murder is for? There are better arguments to be made that the eighteen year old should be charged as an adult but again, is there really a point to that? Five young lives hang in the balance because of the charges pending against them. It doesn’t have to be like this.

Aqua Illinois being sued for Lead Contamination in University Park Water

– Aqua Illinois provides water to a number of communities including the 7,000 strong Village of University Park but on Friday they were sued because of lead contamination in that water. The lead isn’t news to them as Aqua actually let the state know in May that after they switched from groundwater to the Kankakee river, their testing detected high levels of lead. They’ve been trying to provide bottles of water to impacted residents, however it seems the state has grown tired of their inaction. Illinois attorney general Kwame Raoul and Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow filed the lawsuit seeking an injunction to require Aqua Illinois to fix the situation. The suit explains that the switch to the Kankakee river also caused the addition of a chemical that removed a protective layer in people’s plumbing, resulting in increased lead. Aqua Illinois says this issue only affects homes serviced before 1990, although who knows how that reassurance went over with annoyed residents. Although it’s not unique for a giant water corporation to supply a communities’ water, one has to wonder if these situations stem partly from that fact.

Multiple mass shootings by Domestic Terrorist leave 31 dead and a Nation shocked

Although this blog usually covers Illinois legal issues, events such as the mass shootings that happened over the weekend in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio need to be covered because they affect all of us. I won’t give the names of the perpetrators, not because I want to protect their identities but because I don’t want to give them the spotlight in the media these monsters so covet. The spotlight should be on the victims, and the issues that ultimately led to 31 human beings dying over the weekend in these monstrous mass shootings. So, first of all rest in peace to all that lost their lives and condolences to all the friends and family members affected.

One issue that will certainly be brought up over and over again is gun control, and how monsters like the ones who committed these murders had access to firearms. This is an important topic and I do believe it matters to this discussion, but I’d like to focus on what I think is the more important issue here: The rise of far-right extremism that has taken a number of lives in the past few years. The murderer in El Paso is clearly linked to white supremacist organizations that believed Hispanics were “invading” Texas.  Last year, this blog actually covered a legal issue related to far right terrorism when we covered a Montana resident winning a large lawsuit against Neo-Nazis because they were viciously harassing her. But obviously there’s been much more violent examples of this extremism like the events this weekend, and the Pittsburgh Synagogue massacre earlier this year. We need to ask questions like, “why is this violent ideology on the rise, and how do we stop it from taking other people’s lives?” The ADL, which is an organization dedicated to fighting hate, has been covering the rise in far right extremist related violence. Here’s a sobering quote from their website on extremist violence in 2018:

“In 2018, domestic extremists killed at least 50 people in the U.S., a sharp increase from the 37 extremist-related murders documented in 2017, though still lower than the totals for 2015 (70) and 2016 (72).  The 50 deaths make 2018 the fourth-deadliest year on record for domestic extremist-related killings since 1970.The extremist-related murders in 2018 were overwhelmingly linked to right-wing extremists.  Every one of the perpetrators had ties to at least one right-wing extremist movement, although one had recently switched to supporting Islamist extremism. White supremacists were responsible for the great majority of the killings, which is typically the case.”

That is just in 2018, 2019 has seen a whole new string of mass murders committed by far right terrorists. What makes things frustrating is that so much focus in the country has been put on Islamic extremism that for years it has all but ignored the disturbing rise in far right extremism committed by white Americans in our very backyards. Those Far right extremists have caused many more fatalities in America than Islamic extremists. Far right terrorist violence has always been in this country, from the KKK in the late 19th and early 20th century to the Neo-Nazis of today chanting and murdering protesters at Charlottesville. I remember seeing those skinheads chant “Jews will not replace us” and having to hear constant excuses about how it wasn’t that serious and that they were just a small fringe of people. Although I am a privileged white middle class member of society who hasn’t had to deal with oppression that a number of others have, the issue did get personal for me like I imagine it has for so many others who are more directly affected. I am of Jewish descent through my mom and her family and I take pride in that heritage. My grandfather-the bravest man I’ve ever known- was a Hungarian Jew who got caught up in the horrors of the Holocaust and the Nazis. He had to spend multiple years in a concentration camp, not knowing if he had any family-members left. It’s a miracle he was able to make it out alive and start a new life filled with happiness and joy but the pain was always there, I’m sure. To see skinheads chanting stuff like “Jews will not replace us” just makes my blood boil. So many families nearly don’t exist because of Nazism and yet these people are celebrating it? And then a heroic protester named Heather Heyer- who was with a group of counter protesters standing against the Nazis- was murdered by one of the skinheads. It’s hard to fathom that in 2019, a woman lost her life fighting Nazis.

So, although far right extremist violence has always been part of America, it is growing as the people who commit these crimes are feeling emboldened by the amount of others who share their same hateful views. The internet has not helped in the slightest. Popular websites like YouTube and Reddit have helped radicalize young, angry, and usually isolated teenagers by luring them into watching videos from people like Ben Shapiro that help embed those hateful views inside them and then certain subreddits on the popular social media site Reddit help give them an echo chamber where they can share their hatred with like-minded people. YouTube has vowed to try and do a better job at stopping extremist content from being available to the public but their algorithm is also inherently designed to try and get as many people as possible to click on the most amount of videos possible because it helps their bottom line. Unfortunately videos from people like Shapiro have gotten more popular by the day and are frequently recommended to viewers in the “recommended videos” section of YouTube that allows more and more young adults to fall into the rabbit hole of hatred. There are also undoubtedly politicians who stoke fears of people of color and other oppressed minorities as well, and in the last decade these politicians have become more and more mainstream.

This isn’t just an American problem to be sure, although it is certainly a growing issue here. Worldwide, the rise of Fascism, “strongmen” leaders, and far right extremism has increased. We see evidence of this in places like Brazil where the far right politician Jair Bolsonaro won a recent election. In the Philippines the far right politician Rodrigo Duterte has been terrorizing his country for years as its leader. Putin has ruled Russia with an iron fist. Hungarian and Polish politicians have become further and further right. In Italy, Mussolini’s granddaughter is a member of parliament, and she isn’t considered fringe there either. She’s a mainstream politician and not shockingly, her political views line up pretty similarly with her grandfathers. In Europe, there is a growing amount of far right related terrorist violence as well and it’s making authorities nervous as they devote more and more of their resources to trying to stop it. And like in America, many far right politicians in Europe are helping make these kind of beliefs that lead to this violence more mainstream.

Clearly, there are no easy answers to trying to stop the rise of this violence and ideology. I would say that some solutions could include ousting politicians who either openly or placidly support this ideology or don’t do enough to condemn this violence. Stop giving this ideology mainstream access. News stations aren’t blameless, as they tend to stoke fear and divisiveness because it generates the most number of views. Studies have shown how news depictions of immigrants and people of color, especially when it relates to violence, are discriminatory and prove double standards in how certain groups are depicted. I feel early education about this stuff is also crucial, as young adults are some of the most susceptible to falling into this ideology. Early on in school, teachers should be emphasizing the evil of these views, the danger and violence these views can cause, and education on why hatred and violence in illogical and evil. YouTube also needs to be held more accountable for its content and reddit needs to eliminate the subreddits that have openly spewed hatred. Just recently they “quarantined” a sub dedicated to Donald Trump because of all the racist and anti-Semitic posts there. It should just be banned instead of waffling on a decision over what to do about it. It would also help if we could tear down monuments to white supremacy like all the Confederate statues littered throughout the south. These statues influence people coming across them who don’t know much about the civil war, and imbibe them with an idea that the Confederacy was a noble cause. The police need to do a much better job focusing on stopping this violence. Lastly, we need to stop calling these hateful mass murderers lone wolves or act like their exceptions. They should be called terrorists and their ideology should be shamed into oblivion

Birthday Train Keeps Chugging Along

By: Tim Black

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IMG_2266The Birthday Train keeps chugging along and making stops here at LauraLaw.  This past Friday, Laura celebrated her 32nd birthday (I swear!) and we weren’t going to pass up on ANOTHER chance to eat cake and shower our fearless leader with love (and gifts).  True to form, Maddy came in early on Friday morning to hang streamers, light candles, strategically place balloons, and give Laura an office fit for the birthday queen.  Tim gave Laura the morning off by covering her court appearance in Rolling Meadows and Dean moved heaven and earth to make it back from Markham in time for the celebration.  The pizza was provided by Perry’s Park Ridge Pizza & Ribs and cake was cooked with care at Mariano’s.

When Laura arrived, she found an office full of employees with a case of the Fridays and an insatiable hunger to start the party.  So we dimmed the lights, lit the candles, and sang “Happy Birthday” to Laura.  Laura spent about 3 minutes formulating a birthday wish, which is how you know it was a good one, before blowing out all of the candles in one fell swoop (a testament to her youthful exuberance).

IMG_2277The office members banned together to give Laura three birthday cards and a gift card to Nordstrom.  We went for three cards for two reasons:  first, because Laura loves to get one funny card and one sentimental card for people on their special day, the office has adopted that tradition; second,  if you know Laura you know that she’s superstitious about many things, most of which is that good things come in multiples of three.  (That’s why when you leave the office, she insists on giving you three hugs to protect you as you leave.)  We couldn’t just put a gift card in an envelope and say “Happy Birthday Boss,” so Ala came up with the genius idea to present Laura with a novelty check.  Even if she didn’t win the lottery, it sure looks like she did!

IMG_2280In the end, it was great to be able to spend another gorgeous Friday afternoon having fun with the family that is LauraLaw.  If we could have birthday celebrations every week, we would.  For now, we’ll continue to make the most out of the weeks we DO get to celebrate.  As for the LauraLaw, we’re back at it this week, working hard to defend our clients.  We have a week full of court appearances, CLE, and client meetings.  But as always, if you should find yourself under arrest or under investigation in Illinois, remember your right to remain silent and contact us immediately.  One of our team members will be happy to assist you with your criminal and administrative needs.

¡Feliz cumpleaños a Maddy! – Another Reason to Celebrate

By:  Tim Black

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IMG_2237We like to party!  We like – we like to party!  No, the Venga Bus is not coming, but July 12th came and went; which means we had a party to celebrate Maddy‘s birthday!  If you know us, you know we like to throw office birthday parties.  To wrap up last week (and send Maddy off to Florida for a birthday weekend getaway) we floated balloons to the ceiling, hung a piñata, and lit some birthday candles in honor of our beloved Office Manager Maddy.

IMG_2256Laura‘s favorite thing to do is shop so Maddy left for Florida stacked with gifts that were useful on her trip, and useful upon her return (she brought Florida’s heat and humidity with her).  As seen in the pictures from the party, not only are Maddy’s eyes protected from those harmful UV rays, but she looks d#%n good in her brand new sunglasses.  She’ll be stylin’ all summer, turning heads and stopping traffic in those shades.

IMG_2226After Maddy opened her gifts, she got to release all of her remaining stress before going to Florida by absolutely DEMOLISHING the piñata.  Filled with Maddy’s favorite candies (Mounds and Almond Joys – ew) and some more family-friendly candies (Snickers, Milky Way Midnight, and 3 Muskateers – yum) the piñata stood no chance.  Between Maddy and Laura, it was raining candy before we knew it.

 

IMG_2249I always look forward to our office parties.  It gives us a chance to close our computers, put down the case files, and talk amongst each other about things other than DUI law and 4th Amendment jurisprudence.  We love our job here, and we take very seriously the privilege of representing our clients, but it’s important for office morale and mental health to unwind at the end of a long week in honor those we rely upon so heavily to make the office run.  So here’s to Maddy, Happy Birthday, salud!

Illinois Attorney General’s Advice to Flooding Victims: Beware of Scams!

Per the myjournalcourier, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul is warning Illinois residents who were affected by more record floods in the state this past week to beware of scammers moving into these flooded communities to exploit victims. Disaster proclamations were issued in 34 counties and according to the article, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency has already received multiple reports of these “storm chasers” moving into these towns and financially scamming people. Here’s the release from Raoul: “Record flooding has devastated river communities throughout Illinois, and it is critical that homeowners and business owners are on alert for scammers who will use the devastation left behind to line their pockets. I encourage people to contact my office or check with the Better Business Bureau to find out whether complaints have been made against a particular contractor, and to be wary of any individual who solicits home repair or insurance adjusting services door-to-door.”

One of the main scams these chasers use is to pretend they’re insurance brokers going around door to door offering people whose houses have been damaged by the floods advice on how they could best obtain money for quick repairs. However, as Kwame warns, these scammers work or receive a fee for the same housing repair companies they recommend to the victims. A few things Raoul advises to residents is to ask people calling themselves insurance adjusters if they can show their permits(which insurance adjusters are legally required to have), get estimates from multiple contractors before closing a deal, never pay in cash, and make sure you get a written obtained copy of the contract.  This is because anyone entering a contract can cancel it within three business days if the contract was signed on the contractors visit to the home, which in the vast majority of these scams is usually the case. Raoul also told people who were victims of these scams or intended victims to call these customer fraud hotline numbers which the article nicely listed: 1-800-386-5438 (Chicago), 1-800-243-0618 (Springfield), and 1-800-243-0607 (Carbondale).

Laura Law Office advises those affected by scams to follow the AG’s advice. It is very sad that he even has to give that advice but it seems that natural disasters are some of the most opportune time for compassionless scammers to exploit people and possibly destroy their lives.

Illinois legislature finally breaks through legalization debate: Recreational Cannabis is Coming

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From Bill Hutchinson of ABC News, legalization of marijuana has successfully made it through the state legislature and is now awaiting the approval signature from Governor J. B. Pritzker, who is certainly going to sign it. Illinois is unique not in that it is legalizing recreational cannabis(they will be the 11th state to do so, making recreational cannabis legal in over 20% of the country) but because they will be the first state to enact legalization through its legislature, as the other 10 states did it through ballot initiative. Either way, legal weed is coming as the bill(HB 1438) passed through the House of Representatives by a majority of 66-47.

My favorite part of the bill, which I have noted multiple times throughout this entire process, is the expungement policy baked in. Under this new bill, Illinois residents convicted for small amounts of possession can petition the state if the crime they were convicted for wasn’t associated with any violent act. An estimated 770,000 citizens will likely be able to have their records expunged under this new rule, and that is a positive impact on an enormous amount of people. It’s easy to be cynical about politics, but we have to recognize when some good can finally come from it, even if it seems these policies should’ve been put in place years ago.

As the article notes, past and present Marijuana convictions disproportionately affects minority communities, as systemic racism still runs rife throughout Illinois law enforcement and Illinois court systems. So, the bill should be also be a small step toward social justice, something we desperately need in these unjust times. Here’s some more about the ins and outs of the bill from Hutchinson:  “Under the proposed law, Illinois residents 21 and older, beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, will be able to legally possess up to 30 grams of cannabis — a little more than an ounce — and will be able to purchase it from licensed marijuana dispensaries (currently there are only medical dispensaries and 22 state-licensed cultivation centers). Non-residents of Illinois will be permitted to possess about half the amount of weed than residents will be allowed to possess.” So, naturally you have to still be 21 to be able to purchase cannabis and non Illinois residents visiting the state cannot purchase the same amount as Illinois residents.

Obviously the financial impact on the state’s coffers was always going to come into play, and it does play a big factor in this bill passing. Pritzker believes that in the first year of legalization alone, the State could bring in 170 million dollars in revenue. This large amount is likely even larger because legal cannabis will also be heavily taxed, as expected. A 10% tax will be placed on purchases of products that contain less than 35% of THC, but the tax could go all the way up to 25% if purchasing products with higher doses of THC. Obviously it is still illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis, like alcohol. You also cannot consume cannabis in public areas.

In a lot of ways, one of the persons we most have to give a big thank you to for this bill passing is the democratic senator Kelly Cassidy who has been a long time crusader for legalization and this bill in particular. In April she sat down with NPR to talk about potential legalization and this blog covered that interview here. Here’s what she had to say about the bill passing per the article: “Decades of prohibition hasn’t stopped use, prohibition hasn’t made us safer. Prohibition hasn’t built communities – in fact, it has destroyed them. Prohibition hasn’t created jobs, in fact, it has prevented people from finding work. Ending prohibition will allow us to bring this out of the shadows. Impose reasonable and thoughtful regulation and bring assurance of a tested and safer product.” This is a thoughtful well crafted statement that rings true, as the failed War on Drugs has had disastrous consequences for thousands of communities across the country.

There were a few naysayers obviously in the House who believe that legalization will hurt communities but frankly I don’t feel the need to cover the objections too thoroughly because 1) their crusade was about the battle to control the bodily autonomy of others and put more people into an already overcrowded prison system, not protect communities. And 2) because they lost, and the battle is over. Legalization is coming whether they like it or not, and we should all be thankful for that. Here is the Bill in totality.

Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated Man Wins Huge Settlement

NBC 5 Chicago reports that the now 52 year old Christopher Abernathy will receive a settlement of around 14 million dollars from Insurers representing the Village of Park Forest, from the Village itself, and other local law enforcement as compensation for him being wrongfully detained for 29 years after he was convicted for the slaying and rape of 15 year old Kristina Hickey.

Here are a few details about the case and trial from Abernathy’s page on the National Registry of Exonerations database, written by Maurice Possley. On October the 3rd, 1984, 15 year old Park Forest child Kristina Hickey was abducted on her way home from Coir practice and was found deceased two days later behind a shopping mall. She had been raped and stabbed. Abernathy was an 17 year old high school senior at this time and it was a comment made to police by an acquaintance of his that led police to looking at him. About a year after the murder, Possley writes “police brought in 18-year-old Christopher Abernathy for questioning after an acquaintance, Allan Dennis, told police that several months earlier Abernathy had admitted killing Hickey. Abernathy had attended Hickey’s funeral—as did several hundred other teenagers—and was heard saying that he had a gun in his car and intended to fire a salute afterward. Police checked Abernathy out at that time, but decided the comment was not serious.” But this time the police pinned Abernathy as a serious suspect, in fact it seemed they were specifically focused on Abernathy as their singular suspect. They grilled Abernathy viciously and lengthily as Possley writes. “After more than 40 hours of interrogation, Abernathy, a high school dropout who had been classified as learning disabled, signed a confession saying he saw her walking home and wanted to have sex with her. When she refused, he attempted to rape her and then accidentally stabbed her with a pocket knife he had in his hand.”

First off, rest in peace to Kristina Hickey and my thoughts go out to her family and friends affected by such a vicious, horrible crime. But the police trapped a young, vulnerable man with a learning disability in a darkly lit room without a lawyer present and basically held him hostage until he confessed to a crime he didn’t commit. What other way can you put it? This is why the Laura Law office begs you to never ever talk to police without your lawyer present, even if you are 100% innocent. Ideally people like to believe that the police are always looking out for the truth when questioning suspects, but in a lot of cases they are just confirming the biases they already started with and will be naturally confrontational. Even though Abernathy quickly recanted the confession, claiming that he signed it because the police promised in return he could go free and see his mother, it was too late. The fact that Abernathy thought that in such a serious crime that he would just be able to go home after confessing should’ve made it painfully clear that this young man had some learning disability issues. The police had to know this, but they disgustingly grilled Abernathy for 40 hours anyway. Frankly, that is torture.

When Abernathy went to trial in Cook Counties Circuit Court in January of 1987, the Prosecution’s entire case rested on Abernathy’s confession and the statements made to police by Abernathy’s acquaintance Dennis- mentioned earlier in this blog. There was no forensic or physical evidence that tied him to the crime, and tests on Abernathy’s person for the presence of semen was negative. But the jury convicted him for first degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and armed robbery all the same. It’s an atrocity that they allowed that forced confession into evidence for the jury to review. The only thing that saved Abernathy from the death penalty was the fact he was a minor at the time of the crime, which is just another indicator about the death penalties failure as a policy. If Abernathy was a few months older, he would be dead for a crime he didn’t commit and there would be no taking back this grievous mistake.

According to Possley, about 15 years later some new developments in the case began to emerge: Dennis recanted his testimony at trial that Abernathy had confessed to him that he committed the crime. In fact, the police were once again implied to have used coercive methods in their questioning of Dennis to get him to give the statement he originally did. There were also benefits given to Dennis undisclosed to the Defense- like $300 worth of clothes and the promise of leniency on pending minor charges.  Journalist students from Northwestern University dug deep into the case and believed they had found good reason to believe that Abernathy was innocent. They brought their findings to a law firm that included Illinois Innocence project worker Lauren Kaeseberg- who began work on the case in 2013. She subsequently asked the Cook County Integrity unit to review the case as well, and after an agreement between the Innocence Project and Integrity Unit, it was allowed that eight items of evidence were to be tested for DNA evidence. This included items such as Hickey’s clothing and purse. After the testing, it was revealed that there was zero DNA evidence of Abernathy being on any of the items and a partial DNA profile of another person’s was found instead. Although this partial profile wasn’t enough to find the person who it belonged to, the prosecution agreed that these new developments cleared Abernathy of all crimes.

In February of 2015 the Integrity Unity recommended that all charges against Abernathy be dropped, and that same day he was released. He was finally able to go home to his mother, fulfilling the now decades broken promise the police made to him in return for his forced confession- again after 40 hours of interrogation without a lawyer. In 2016 Abernathy filed a Federal civil rights lawsuit against the people he saw as responsible for his incarceration, which included two former police officers who worked on the case and the cook counties states attorney’s office. This lead to the settlement recently won by Abernathy, of nearly 14 million dollars.

It’s undoubtedly good news that Abernathy was granted this settlement and that the police and court systems were actually held accountable for the negative consequences of their actions. But no amount of money in the world can give Christopher back the nearly 30 years he lost. Years he could’ve spent falling in love and being loved, time with friends and family, and just time to be happy. Instead he spent those years inside a cell, likely confused over being caged for a crime he didn’t commit. That is a tragedy and a stark reminder of how confessions are in many cases, coercively obtained.

The other tragedy that should never be forgotten is that of Kristina Hickey’s. She was a child who deserved to live a happy and full life and that was viciously taken away from her in the most brutal way possible and no justice has ever been achieved for her. That justice may never be achieved now because of the police’s decision to focus in on Abernathy, wasting years of valuable time and resources that could’ve went into finding her actual killer. It doesn’t seem fair that those involved in the wrongful incarceration of people such as Abernathy- like the police who interrogated him for 40 hours- should just be financially punished. Lots of times, the vast majority of that financial burden falls on the taxpayers to pay, which will happen in this case too. So those police officers and prosecutors stole years of a person life away and stole money from the public as well. Why shouldn’t they see jail time?

-by Jake Morask

Marijuana Legalization is coming soon to Illinois- Here’s the Bill that could finish the process

About three weeks ago, Governor J.B. Pritzker and his allies revealed their planned bill for Recreational Marijuana legalization. The proposed legislation is an amendment to Senate Bill 7 and one of its main features is allowing persons over the age of 21 to possess up to 30 grams at a time and to grow up to 5 plants in their homes. Julie Tappendorf over at Municipal Minute was kind enough do a brief outline of some of the other main functions of the Bill. I’m just going to look at each of these purposes and do a little analysis on each of them as well.

The first part of the bill that Tappendorf covers regards local communities abilities to prohibit Marijuana businesses from being established. Under the new legislation, communities can limit or outright prohibit Marijuana dispensaries from being established, along with cultivation centers, craft growers, processing organizations, and transportation organizations. The only catch to this is that these communities have to enact these restrictions within one year of the referenced Bill being passed. Otherwise if they try to enact these restrictions past that period, a referendum needs to be passed. Frankly i’m a little surprised that the bill is giving communities the option of outright prohibiting Marijuana dispensaries in their towns. I would be less surprised if the communities tried to outright prohibit persons from home growing, since that seems to be the police’s biggest issue in regards to the dangers of legalization. I guess though that these local governments have more power over the businesses that can and can’t be in their town than they do over what people do in their own homes.

Next we get to a similar function of the Bill: Communities regulatory powers over Marijuana dispensaries. Basically local governments can regulate the locations where dispensaries are located given that they don’t infringe on the language of the bill or on the private citizens ability to home grow. Again I find the home grow part interesting, as it seems this bill is making a point to emphasize that people must have a right to be able grow in their homes, even more so than businesses having a right to sell Marijuana to people. Some prohibited locations will include sensitive places where the local government feels there is a danger to them if they are near Dispensaries.  The bill also allows local governments to regulate the time in which these dispensaries are established, and how many are being established. Finally, here’s Tappendorf’s conclusion on this part of the bill, which emphasizes home growing once again: “The current bill also expressly allows local governments to regulate cannabis businesses through the use of conditional (special) use permits. While the bill allows local governments some regulatory authority, the bill prohibits local governments from regulating cannabis businesses in a more restrictive manner than allowed under the Act. Importantly, this prohibition includes an express home rule preemption.” So the new bill will loosen the regulations currently in place on dispensaries, but I still wouldn’t exactly call these regulations “loose,” just “looser.” But the home grow part again intrigues me, this bill definitely does not want to mess with people rights to home grow.

Now we arrive at the tangle of employment policies and how Marijuana legalization will affect those. The basic summary is that Employers under the new bill would have the right to create a reasonable, non discriminatory Marijuana policy(Basically no Marijuana allowed at work/Don’t be high) and can terminate employees if they do not follow that policy. The bill also gets into when an employer may have reasonable belief that an employee is under the influence of Cannabis which I find is a fascinating and potentially dangerous angle. Can employers make up some bogus reasoning that they think one of their employees is high and then use that to get them fired for that? Employers across America seem to be always looking to get one over on their employees and this may allow them another vehicle to do so. I will remain to be seen and clarified on exactly what employers need to prove to show that their employees are under the influence

This next part is the briefest thankfully and it has to do with taxation. Communities under the new bill may propose a local tax on dispensaries, although the rate of tax cannot exceed 3% of the dispensaries gross receipts from the sale of recreational cannabis. Nothing too crazy or noteworthy here.

Finally, we get to one of the most important part of legalization: Expunging criminal records that were based on Marijuana offenses. The Illinois State Police and States Attorney’s office will be in charge of the initial proceedings of expungement and hopefully they sincerely follow through. After these initial expungements, local law enforcement will have to expunge records regarding arrests for minor Marijuana violations within 60 days of notice from the Illinois State police.

In conclusion, this seems like an actually good bill. I’m impressed by the Bills emphasis on protecting home growing and expunging records for Marijuana offenses. It’ll be interesting to see if this passes the House, Senate, and Governor to come into being. It would finally put an end to this endless debate.

Here’s the link to the full Bill: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/101/SB/PDF/10100SB0007sam001.pdf

Peoria Man’s Murder Sentence Overturned on Technicality

According to Chris Kaergard of the Peoria Journal Star, Peoria native Phouvone Sophanavong had his 55 year murder sentence overturned this past Thursday based on a technicality. Sophanavong kidnapped his estranged wife Laongdao Phangthong in November of 2013, and her body was discovered the day after the kidnapping in the parking garage of the OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria. After a violent standoff with police in which Sophanavong shot himself in the chest twice, he was arrested and taken into custody. In 2014 he plead guilty to the murder of Phangthong, although he continually tried to recant that plea on the basis that he had ineffective council. He was sentenced to 55 years in prison, but there was a mistake during the plea process that has now proved very costly to the prosecution: The Judge was not given information on how Sophanavong’s prior arrests and criminal cases were resolved, which theoretically would have affected his sentencing. Because of this, the 3rd district Appellate court ruled that Sophanavong’s sentence should be overturned and returned to the trial court in Perkin for review and sentencing.

This result is unfortunate to say the least. This isn’t a case of an oppressive court stealing a mans freedom away based on little evidence or a case of oppressive sentencing. This man seemingly did murder Laongdao Phangthong, and it is only a technicality that has provided him with a brief reprieve. My heart goes out to the victim and her family, who probably were shocked upon hearing this news. Even if Sophanavong is given a similar sentence, it’s unfortunate the family will have to relive something that has likely caused them incredible grief and trauma.