Federal Court Sentences Man to Death for Second Time

CC image Wikipedia.orgA 12-person federal jury handed down the death penalty to Ronell Wilson on Wednesday in connection with the murder of two undercover police officers in 2003.

A federal jury originally sentenced Wilson to death in 2007, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in 2010, saying a sentence of life in prison was sufficient. The original sentence was overturned after the defense argued their client’s right against self-incrimination was violated during trial. During the trial, the state prosecutor told jurors that if Mr. Wilson had felt any remorse for his actions, he would have taken the stand.

Although the new sentence meant Wilson would spend the rest of his life behind bars, federal prosecutors still felt that the sentence was too light. They brought new evidence against Wilson, including video evidence of his non-compliance in prison. The jury also heard evidence that he had engaged in sexual relations with a female prison guard, who gave birth to Wilson’s son in March. After only five hours of deliberation, the jury decided to reinstate the death penalty.

Cold-Blooded Killer

Just over 10 years ago in March 2003, Wilson was part of an illegal weapons sale that went south. According to the case, undercover detectives Rodney Andrews and James Nemorin arranged a sting operation to purchase an illegal handgun from Wilson.

Prosecutors argued that Wilson never intended to sell the gun to the officers. Instead, Wilson used the gun to shoot both detectives in the back of the head after they paid him money for the weapon. Arguing that the murders were committed for financial gain, and that Wilson possessed future danger, prosecutors succeeded in getting the original death penalty sentence in 2007, New York’s first death sentence since 1953.

Now that Wilson is back on death row, Rodney Andrews Sr., father of Det. Andrews, said the punishment once again fits the crime.

“He’s done too many things,” said Mr. Andrews. “He’s proven that he’s not going to change.”

Mr. Andrews added that he planned to watch Wilson’s execution “for satisfaction.”

Attorney Brett Appelman comments

Many people do not realize that there are federal death penalty cases, even if it is contrary to state law. In this case, the defendant committed two murders, which under state law in New York could not possibly get him the death penalty. New York, like many other states, has outlawed the death penalty for state level crimes.

When the defendant murdered two on-duty law enforcement officers, he committed a crime that can be charged as a state crime or a federal crime. The federal prosecutor wanted the death penalty for this defendant, so she took the case away from the state prosecutors. The federal government supersedes the state government and can take cases to federal court if it wishes to do so.

Related source: New York Times

5 Tips to Follow if You Get Pulled Over

CC image Wikipedia.orgAlthough we’ve already discussed five ways to avoid a traffic ticket, we thought we’d put a little tweak on the topic and talk about what you should do if you notice the red and blue lights in your rearview mirror. Assuming you are already in the process of getting pulled over, here are five things you can do to put yourself in the best position to beat a traffic citation.

1.  Pull Over Quickly and Safely – This one might sound like common sense, but it’s not always as easy as it sounds. There’s a very good chance you’ll be driving in the left lane on the highway when the officer comes up behind you, so you’ll need to move over to the far right lane unless there is ample room on the left side of the highway. When moving over, put your blinker on and make sure you’re not a danger to others on the road. Once you’re on the shoulder, put your hazard lights on and wait for the officer.

2.  Stay Cool and Collected – It might be easy to start freaking out, but that will only make the situation worse. Getting fidgety or nervous will make it look like you are hiding something, and for all you know the officer may be stopping you because he noticed a brake light was out. Roll down the window and make eye contact with the officer when speaking.

3.  Keep Your Hands in Plain Sight – You might think you’re helping by reaching into your glove box or under your seat to grab your proof of insurance, but wait until the officer directs you to retrieve it. If he sees you fiddling with the glove compartment, he may think you’re stashing drugs, or worse, reaching for a weapon. If you need to reach for some information, wait until the officer is at your window, and ask for permission to retrieve the item from its location.

4.  Be Polite – We covered this topic on the previous blog post, but it’s extremely important for two reasons. First, if the cop hasn’t made up his mind about whether or not to give you a ticket, being courteous can help put you in a favorable light. Also, if you plan on contesting any ticket, you’ll want to get through the interaction as quickly and non-memorably as possible. When contesting the ticket in court, the officer will need to remember key details about the case, and if you don’t do anything to stand out, he may have a difficult time recalling the specific incident.

5.  Sign Your Ticket – Following the last point, if the officer asks you to sign the ticket, go ahead and sign it. Your signature only acknowledges that you received a ticket, it is not an admission of guilt. You can cause more trouble for yourself by being stubborn and refusing to sign the ticket, so throw your John Hancock on the ticket and you’ll be on your way in no time.

Traffic Attorney Sean Sullivan comments

These are all very good points that drivers would do well to keep in mind, especially the last point that by signing the ticket you are not admitting guilt.

People need to remember that there is a burden of proof the state must reach in order to prove that you are actually guilty of the offense of speeding. The ticket is simply an allegation by the police officer that you were speeding. This does not necessarily mean you are guilty of speeding. They still have to prove you are guilty of the offense in court.

Accept the ticket and contact an experienced criminal traffic lawyer to see what can be done about the ticket. You don’t want to argue with the officer and have a simple speeding ticket turn into resisting or assault of a police officer, which is a much more serious offense.

Related source: Chicago Tribune

Interlock Devices Now Equipped with Cameras in Illinois

CC image ignition_interlock by VCU CNS and US DoT on FlickrLaw enforcement officials have taken another step in the fight against drunk driving by adding mandatory cameras on all Blood-Alcohol Ignition Interlock Devices (BAIID), which are required for any offender convicted of a DUI.

Although some people might frown upon the idea that “Big Brother” is watching you while you drive, of the 11,000 motorists in Illinois who have a BAIID in their vehicle, more than 3,000 are caught each year trying to drive after they’ve had too much to drink. When asked to explain why they got behind the wheel with an elevated BAC, many claim that a friend or family member was actually driving the car. The addition of mandatory cameras will take the guesswork out of determining who was driving.

“We get an inordinate amount of people telling us it wasn’t them (blowing into the Breathalyzer),” said Susan McKinney, administer of the state’s program. “They say it was anybody but me. Now, the technology will allow us not to have to make a judgment call.”

How it Works

Motorists who are required to use a BAIID will not notice much of a change to the new system. They’ll continue to be required to blow into the machine when starting the car and three times per hour while driving, but the device will snap a picture each time a person blows.

If a person registers a 0.05 or above, the device will send the reading to the Illinois secretary of state for review. The secretary’s office will then send a letter to the motorist, asking for more information about the situation in order to determine if a violation occurred.

Some people believe the mandatory cameras are a privacy infringement, but others, like Susan McKeigue, Illinois Executive Director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, believe you lose some privacy rights when you’re convicted of a DUI.

“Driving is a privilege,” said McKeigue. “ It’s not a right, and if you have abused your privilege by being arrested, tried and convicted of drunk driving, then the right to privacy argument is babble.”

The End of Social Drinking

Privacy concerns aside, most will agree that installing cameras onto BAIIDs will help deter drivers from getting behind the wheel when they’ve had too many. Reducing traffic fatalities is a goal everyone can work towards, but some feel the device could negatively impact responsible social drinkers.

Because the device sends information to the Secretary of State if a person blows above a 0.05, a person could be reprimanded even if they weren’t legally drunk. In addition, the NTSB has already recommended the legal limit be dropped from 0.08 to 0.05, which means a person could be over the limit with just one or two drinks.

People on both sides of the fence are trying to figure out a reasonable solution; some say information should only be sent if a person registers over a 0.08, while others say the legal limit should be 0.05 across the board. Sarah Longwell, managing director for the American Beverage Institute, said lowering the legal limit could bring an end to social drinking.

“It decimates the restaurant and hospitality industry,” said Longwell. “A wiser approach would be to extend greatly the length of time a motorist arrested for drunken driving must operate his or her vehicle with an ignition interlock device.”

Longwell concluded by saying responsible drinkers could be hurt most if the legal limit was dropped.

“Then it’s moved from an anti-drunken-driving mentality to an anti-drinking agenda.”

Attorney Brett Appelman comments

These in-car breathalyzers were first mandated in Illinois in 2009, and the technology of alcohol detection is advancing very quickly. With the addition of a camera, the hope of the Secretary of State and MAAD is that less people will be tempted to try to fool the breath device.

If you have been arrested for a DUI, you must have one of these devices installed in your vehicle in order to legally drive. Up until now there was no way for the device to determine who was blowing into the device; the driver, or someone else. While the penalties for attempting to fool the device are severe (felony charges for both the driver and whoever blew into the device on their behalf), prosecutions are extremely rare.

The cameras will take the guesswork out of the process of deciding if the driver was trying to fool the device or not. Aside from losing their permit to drive with the device, the driver, and their friend, will now more likely face criminal charges. The hope is that with these severe penalties in place, there will be less attempts to fool the device, and therefore less intoxicated drivers on the road.

On the other side, the privacy concerns are a legitimate complaint. No one wants the government constantly filming their actions, or listening in on their conversations. Are these cameras just the beginning of a slippery slope that ends with cameras in ALL cars, regardless of the owner’s criminal history? Will the customers even be told that there are cameras in the cars? There is a very valid argument to be made that cameras will infringe on people’s constitutional protections against unlawful searches.

In the case of these cameras, the privacy argument will likely lose out to the safety argument. These cameras should, in theory, reduce the likelihood of drunken driving by people with the devices in their cars. Since driving is a privilege, not a right, the State can realistically demand that if you have a prior DUI, and you want to drive, then you must install a breath device and a camera in your car.

Related source: Chicago Tribune

DUIs Down, Speeding Citations Up During 4th of July Weekend

CC image Wikipedia.orgThe Illinois State Police Department said DUI citations were down over the 4th of July weekend, but speeding citations were up from 2012.

The DUI numbers are encouraging, especially since recent data revealed the 4th of July is statistically one of the most deadly holidays for alcohol-related fatalities. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the five most deadly holiday weekends for alcohol-related crashes are:

  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Memorial Day
  • New Year’s Eve
  • Thanksgiving

The Illinois State Police said they responded to 14 crashes during the holiday weekend, which was up five from last year, but only one accident involved an impaired driver.

Speeding Citations Rise

Everyone knows traffic in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs can be a pain, especially during weekends of heavy travel. When you finally get an open strip of road, it can be tough to resist the urge to hit the gas.

Sometimes a State Trooper like Dustin Pierce will give you the benefit of the doubt if you’re a couple miles over the speed limit, but an officer isn’t going to be as lenient if you’re speeding a construction zone, which is one of the main reasons Pierce believes so many people were cited for speeding last weekend.

“You know, it is a big project,” said Pierce. “It’s going to be going on for a long time. We’re having a lot of problems with people speeding through there. We’re putting a lot of troopers in that construction zone to help cut down on the problems.”

Pierce added that officers will be ramping up patrols in construction zones along Interstate 74, so use caution if you’ll be traveling on I-74 in the near future. If you mind the posted speed limits, you won’t need to use our five tips to get out of a speeding ticket.

Related sources: WMBD/WYZZ-TV, CBS 31

Man Accused of Sexually Abusing Peacock Declared Unfit For Trial

CC image Wikipedia.orgAn Illinois man accused of sexually abusing a peacock was declared mentally unfit to stand trial, a DuPage County judge ruled last week.

David Beckman, 64, of Roselle, was found mentally unfit for trial after psychological tests found that he was unable to comprehend legal matters and was unresponsive to questioning. Also citing a history of mental abuse and stress caused as a war veteran, Judge Alex McGimpsey decided that Beckman was in need of psychiatric care before he could stand trial.

Beckman will be transferred to the Illinois Department of Human Services for his treatment. The court hopes to restore Beckman to fitness within a year.

Alleged Abuse

According to the police report, Beckman was booked on misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty, battery, and attempted indecent solicitation of a child. On the charges of soliciting a child, prosecutors allege that Beckman asked a teen boy to “feel him up.”

He is also being looked into for the death of his pet peacock, Phyl. Investigators say Beckman sexually abused the peacock, which has later found dead in the garage.

Beckman’s next court date is set for July 25.

Attorney Miriam Szatrowski comments

Anyone charged with a crime has a right to be fit for a trial, plea, or sentencing hearing. In Illinois, a person who is unable to understand the proceedings and assist in his or her defense because of a mental or physical condition is unfit. If anyone involved in the case – the defense attorney, the prosecutor, or the judge – has a bona fide doubt as to a defendant’s fitness, the issue must be resolved before moving forward with the criminal case.

In these situations, a psychologist will evaluate the defendant, and then a hearing will be held. If the judge finds that the defendant is not fit to stand trial, and that the defendant is likely to be restored to fitness within a year, then the defendant can be ordered to undergo treatment. The treatment ordered must be in the least restrictive setting possible.

In this case, the judge found the defendant unfit due to mental illness. He was ordered to undergo treatment in a locked, inpatient facility, so the judge must have made a finding that a less secure setting would not be appropriate. It is not clear what led the judge to make this finding in this particular case, but it is usually done when the defendant is unwilling or unable to cooperate with an outpatient treatment plan. The defendant will stay in the secure facility until he is found fit, or he is there for one year, whichever comes first.

Related source: Daily Herald