Witnesses Being Intimidated Through Social Media

Witness intimidationSocial media helps keep friends and family members connected, but new evidence suggests others are using these sites for a more sinister purpose. According to NBC News, a few users are using social media sites to intimidate witnesses by publishing their information online. 

Bradley Shear, an attorney who specializes in social media law, said he’s not surprised that witness information is being spread in the digital world.

“It’s absolutely not surprising to me. People are taking pictures of witnesses, they’re posting them online, and they’re doing it specifically for witness intimidation,” said Shear. “And it’s only going to increase with frequency. People have to be so careful with where they are, who is taking pictures of them.”

Witness intimidation tactics have been used for centuries, and it usually involves implying or directly stating that an ill fate may befall a witness or their loved ones if they testify against a defendant. With more information than ever before available to anyone with an Internet connection, those seeking to influence a verdict can track down addresses and phone numbers of witnesses with a few clicks.

There have been several notable examples of social media sites being used to expose witnesses, including:

  • An Intsagram account devoted to exposing witnesses who have testified against certain violent criminals in the Philadelphia area.
  • A woman was sentenced to 2-5 years in prison for posting witness testimony on Facebook which included the witness’ name, address and sworn statement in an attempted murder case.
  • A 20-year-old man was sentenced to 23 months in prison for threatening witnesses on Facebook and posting status updates that said, “Kill all rats.”
  • The online database whosarat.com, which has over 5,000 photos of criminal informants.

“Social media is one of those double-edged swords,” said Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School. “On the one hand, it can spread the dangers of intimidation and fear and even certain sorts of crime, but it also provides the basis for new forms of social safety, of sharing information, of protecting victims, of providing information about crimes that we didn’t know before.”

Cook County Combats Intimidation

Gang intimidation has been a problem in the past for some witnesses in Cook County, so law enforcement officials have taken steps to crack down on the crime. Since a lot of classified information can be captured and disseminated with the click of a few buttons on an iPhone, Cook County has banned cell phones from criminal courthouses. Other related electronic devices like laptops and tablets have also been banned by Cook County.

“This ban is important to uphold our justice system and the safety of our courts,” said Circuit Court of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans in a statement. “Intimidation will not be tolerated.”

Sean Sullivan comments

As a defense attorney, I would never advocate for my client to intimidate a witness. It’s a very serious felony charge in and of itself. Plus, the danger to the person threatening the witness is that computer records leave a trail of evidence that can easily tie them to the crime.

Simply put, it is much better to just trust your attorney and let them handle your case. Oftentimes defendants think they are doing something to help their case, but it just ends up hurting their case, or resulting in more charges. I would never want any of my clients to be in that situation.

Related sources: NBC News, Chicago Tribune

25-Year-Old Arrested For Repeated 911 Calls

Dial 911A Bolingbrook man was arrested Tuesday and charged with a felony for making repeated calls to 911 asking for police to unlock his car.

Richard J. Rodriguez, 25, called the police to help him out of a sticky situation early Tuesday morning when he realized he had locked his keys in his car. It’s uncertain how the first call transpired, but Rodriguez decided to call 911 for a second time after authorities didn’t come to his residence. During the second call, dispatchers warned Rodriguez that 911 should only be used in an emergency, and that he should not abuse the system.

Apparently Rodriguez believed being late for his probation hearing qualified as an emergency, because he dialed 911 for a third time, even though officers were already en route to preform a wellness check.

A “highly intoxicated” Rodriguez greeted officers when they arrived at his residence. Shortly thereafter he was arrested for making false 911 calls.

Newly Upgraded Charge

As the law reads, a person may not call 911 “for the purpose of making or transmitting a false alarm or complaint and reporting information when, at the time the call or transmission is made, the person knows there is no reasonable ground for making the call or transmission and further knows that the call or transmission could result in the emergency response of any public safety agency.”

Abuse of emergency services has only recently been upgraded to felony level. The crime was upgraded to a felony in 2011 when Governor Pat Quinn signed a new bill in hopes of deterring people from abusing the system.

“By making the penalty harsher, this new law will help deter people from placing false 911 calls,” Quinn said in an earlier press release.

If convicted, Rodriguez faces up to three years in prison and could be fined up to $25,000.

Sean Sullivan comments

This seems to be a very harsh result for simply calling 911, but people don’t realize it is a crime to call the emergency response number without an actual emergency. Normally we hear these stories as funny anecdotes about kids calling the police on their parents or prank calls of some sort.

What I suspect was this man’s undoing was the fact that he called 911 multiple times and was quite intoxicated when the police arrived. I would think officers may have overlooked one call, but it does become a danger to the public when the police repeatedly have to respond to a situation that is not an emergency. This man may very well be fined the cost of the officer’s responses. That is a common punishment levied by the courts in these types of cases.

Related sources: Chicago Tribune, 911 Dispatch

Gay Marriage Approved in Illinois

Gay MarriageGay marriage in Illinois won a monumental victory during Tuesday’s election when 61 members of the House, one more than the minimum, voted to approve the bill that would make same-sex marriage legal beginning on June 1, 2014.

“At the end of the day, what this is about is love,” said Representative Greg Harris. “It’s about family. It’s about commitment.”

The bill still needs to be signed by Governor Pat Quinn before it is made official, but Quinn has already stated that he intends to sign the bill before the end of the month. Once signed, Illinois will become the 15th state to approve gay marriage.

Tumultuous Quest

Many proponents of the bill were unsure if the marriage proposal would gain enough support to make it onto Governor Quinn’s desk before the end of the year. The proposal failed during a January legislative session, but the Senate later passed the bill on Valentine’s Day. The bill made it through a veto session in October, but some people speculated that because candidate filings for next year’s election are only a few weeks away, some House members wouldn’t want to risk the PR hit by sticking their necks out for the bill, but 61 House members did.

Harris said the bill passed because it had support from Illinoisans all across the state.

“I think it says a lot about Illinoisans, I think it says a lot about Americans, I think it says a lot about where the country’s going,” Harris said. “You had Republicans voting for this bill, you had Democrats voting for this bill. You had folks from southern Illinois voting for this bill, from central Illinois, from the suburbs, from collar counties. You had African-Americans, you had Latinos, you had white, gay and straight.”

Others across the state say members of the Illinois Senate and House began to give gay marriage a more serious look when the United States ruled that The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. DOMA had prohibited same-sex couples that were legally married in their home state from receiving the same federal benefits that were available to heterosexual married couples. With Tuesday’s vote, same-sex partners in Illinois will soon be able to seek the same benefits endowed on their heterosexual counterparts.

Citizens across the nation lauded Illinois lawmakers for their decision, and even President Barack Obama issued an official statement.

“Michelle and I are overjoyed for all the committed couples in Illinois whose love will now be as legal as ours — and for their friends and family who have long wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and equally under the law.”

Sean Sullivan comments

This is certainly a historic and landmark change for the political and social climate of Illinois. Currently the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) is up for revision in the state senate. Now it may need even further revisions to include the addition of same-sex couples under its scope.

In theory, same-sex couples should now have the same rights and privileges as opposite same-sex couples under the IMDMA. Honestly, we just won’t know until a case is tried in court that involves a sex-same couple attempting to apply the IMDMA to their marriage. Stay tuned, this is a new area of family law that we are going to be watching closely!

Related source: Chicago Tribune

Former NYC Police Commissioner Condemns Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Mandatory SentencesBernard Kerik, the former New York Police Commissioner who spent three years in jail on federal tax evasions charges, recently spoke out against mandatory minimum sentences, saying the disproportionate sentences do nothing to help reform the perpetrator.

Kerik shared his opinions with Matt Lauer in an interview shortly after he was released from prison. He said he believes the judicial system needs to be re-evaluated, because it is setting inmates up for failure.

“The system is supposed to help them, not destroy them,” said Kerik. “If the American people and members of Congress saw what I saw, there would be anger, there would be outrage, and there would be change, because nobody would stand for it.”

Fall From Grace

Kerik’s story attracted national headlines after he worked his way up from cop to a spot on former mayor Rudy Giuliani’s security detail. He was later named commissioner of New York’s Department of Correction and was instrumental in curbing the widespread violence on Rikers Island. He eventually led the NYPD during the September 11 terrorist attacks, and was on the short list for a promotion to the Department of Homeland Security when it all came crashing down.

After withdrawing his name for consideration because he had once hired an illegal alien as a nanny, rumors swirled about multiple affairs leading up to and after his marriage. His name also surfaced in connection with a powerful New York City mob family, and it was later uncovered that illegally accepted gifts and failed to correctly file his taxes. He eventually pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts, including tax evasion and lying to the White House.

Kerik spent his three years in a federal minimum-security prison with many non-violent, first-time offenders. He said his insights into prison life gave him a unique perspective.

“No one in the history of our country has ever been in the system with my background, no one…You have to be on the other side of the bars. You have to see what it’s like to be a victim of the system, so to speak. There’s no way to do that from the other side,” he said.

During the interview with Lauer, Kerik pulled a nickel out of his pocket to symbolize the amount of cocaine that can lock someone up for years.

“I was with men sentenced to ten years in prison for five grams of cocaine. That’s insane. That’s insane,” he said.

He concluded by saying that disproportionate sentences keep inmates locked up for too long, and they struggle to adjust to their old life once they are eventually released.

“Anybody that thinks that you can take these young black men out of Baltimore and D.C., give them a ten-year sentence for five grams of cocaine, and then believe that they’re going to return to society a better person ten years from now, when you give them no life improvement skills, when you give them no real rehabilitation?” he said. “That is not benefiting society.”

Sean Sullivan comments

As a practicing defense attorney I agree wholeheartedly with the observations of Mr. Kerik. Prison sentences have grown to be wholly disproportionate punishment for the crimes committed.

Drug offenses in particular receive harsh prison sentences for relatively minor cases. More efforts need to be made on rehabilitating offenders than punishing them. I think we need to focus on sentencing certain criminals to alternative programs like substance abuse treatment or community service. I think criminal sentencing as a whole needs to be overhauled. Perhaps a high-profile inmate such as Kerik will help draw attention to that.’

Related source: Today News