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Vincent CorneliusAt the Fotopoulos Law Office, we want to offer our sincere congratulations to Vincent F. Cornelius, who was recently elected as a judge of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court of Will County. We believe that Vince will provide justice and fairness in the cases that enter his courtroom.

For decades, Vince Cornelius has been a shining light in the legal community in Will County and throughout the state of Illinois. He has tried hundreds of civil and criminal cases in Will, DuPage, Kane, Cook, Winnebago, Grundy, Kendall, and DeKalb Counties, providing dedicated, personal advocacy for his clients. He has defended clients charged with a wide variety of criminal offenses, from homicide and white collar crimes to DUI and traffic violations, and he has been involved in the settlement of multi-million dollar personal injury cases.

In addition to his advocacy for clients in the courtroom, Vince is dedicated to serving the legal community. He is the past president of the Illinois State Bar Association and the Illinois Bar Foundation, the past Chancellor of the Illinois Academy of Lawyers, a founding board member of the Black Bar Association of Will County, and a member of the DuPage County Bar Association, the Will County Bar Association, and the National College for DUI Defense. He has served on the Governor’s Commission on Criminal Law Reform and on the Board of Visitors of Northern Illinois University College of Law.

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traffic stop and search, Orland Park criminal defense attorney, illegal drugs, felony drug possessionAnyone who has seen the television show Law & Order knows the familiar opening narration: “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important, groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders.” But what happens when these functions become blurred, i.e. the district attorney’s office starts acting as the police? The Illinois Supreme Court recently addressed this question in an important case arising from the controversial policies of LaSalle County's former top prosecutor.

IL Supreme Court Says Ex-LaSalle Prosecutor Conducted Illegal Stops, Arrests

In 2011, then-LaSalle County State's Attorney Brian Towne formed a team of special investigators known as SAFE. Special investigators are individuals appointed by a State's Attorney to serve subpoenas and conduct limited investigations to “assist” prosecutors in performing their duties. They are not, however, sworn police officers.

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assault, battery, Orland Park criminal defense attorney, police excessive force,  criminal chargesThis past January, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) completed a formal investigation into the Chicago Police Department (CPD), specifically the misuse and overuse of force in ways that violate the civil rights of Illinois residents. The DOJ found there was “reasonable cause to believe” that CPD officers routinely took part in acts that “unnecessarily endanger themselves and result in unnecessary and avoidable uses of force.” This was not the result of a few bad officers, the DOJ said, but rather a system-wide “failure to train officers in de-escalation and the failure to conduct meaningful investigations of uses of force.”

IL Judges Reverse Battery Conviction of Man Tased Repeatedly by Police

There are many cases where police not only use excessive force, they turn around and charge the victim with a crime, such as assault and battery. Sadly, many of these victims-turned-defendants suffer from mental illness. The DOJ report noted that many law enforcement officers are not properly trained to deal with “complex situations” involving people with mental health problems and, as a result, the situation quickly escalates.

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violent crime, felony charges, unlawful use of a weapon, Orland Park criminal defense attorney, criminal convictionIf you are charged with a violent crime in Illinois, you have the right to a fair trial. On television legal dramas, you often see crusading prosecutors make powerful opening or closing arguments designed to sway a jury's emotions. In real courtrooms, however, prosecutors need to stick to the evidence. They are not ethically or constitutionally permitted to inflame the jury with prejudicial language.

Court Reverses Attempted Murder Convictions Following Prosecution Misconduct

For example, a prosecutor who repeatedly refers to a defendant as a “criminal” during opening arguments may violate that defendant's right to a fair trial. Indeed, an Illinois appeals court recently overturned the convictions of two co-defendants after a prosecutor did just that. The underlying criminal case involved three Chicago police officers who were shot and injured while attempting to execute a search warrant against one of the defendants.

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drug crime cases, drug charges, criminal conviction, drug conviction, Orland Park criminal defense attorney.Most drug crime cases in Illinois involve police searches, and the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires the police to obtain a warrant for most searches. In its broadest terms, the Fourth Amendment protects our right to privacy. However, this presumes that we had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the first place.

For example, if a police officer walks into your house and starts looking around, that would clearly be a violation of your privacy. Yet suppose you live in an apartment building and an officer searches the lobby, which is unlocked and accessible to the public. Illinois courts have said such searches of “common areas” do not require a warrant because there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.

Still, even within an apartment building, there are limits to how far the police can go. In a 2016 case, the Illinois Supreme Court held that police could not conduct a warrantless search outside an apartment door that was “located within a locked apartment building.” The court said the fact that public access was restricted to the hallway leading up to the defendant's door was critical.

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Orland Park criminal defense lawyer, criminal trial, sexual assault, presumption of innocence, Taking the FifthThe most basic principle of the criminal justice system in Illinois is the presumption of innocence. Whether you are charged with a DUI, sexual assault, or murder, state law provides that “[e]very person is presumed innocent until proved guilty.” In any criminal trial, the burden is therefore on the prosecution to establish the defendant's guilt beyond a “reasonable doubt.”

Can You Be Punished for “Taking the Fifth”?

It is important to understand how the burden of proof works in a criminal trial. If you are accused of a crime, you are not obligated to present any evidence in your defense. Of course, it may benefit you to do so, depending on the circumstances of the case. But at no point can a judge or jury demand that you “prove” you did not commit a crime. Aside from the fact it is difficult to prove a negative, it violates the plain language of Illinois law, which presumes the defendant's innocence.

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felony convictions, own a gun, weapons charges, Orland Park criminal defense attorney, armed habitual criminal lawGun ownership is not an absolute right in Illinois. A resident must obtain a Firearms Ownership Identification card (FOID) from the Illinois State Police in order to legally possess any firearms or ammunition. Anyone who owns or carries a gun without a FOID may face felony weapons charges.

Illinois' Armed Habitual Criminal Law

Certain classes of people are ineligible to receive a FOID. Notably, this includes individuals who have been previously convicted of a felony in Illinois or any other jurisdiction. In fact, if someone previously convicted of multiple felonies is found in possession of a firearm, he or she may face serious sanctions under Illinois law.

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Orland Park criminal defense attorney, right to a speedy trialYou probably know that the United States Constitution guarantees your right to a “speedy trial” if you are accused of committing a crime. The Illinois state constitution has a similar requirement. But what exactly constitutes “speedy?”

In state criminal cases, Illinois law says that a defendant who is taken into custody must be tried within 120 days. If the defendant is released on bond, he or she must be tried within 160 days after filing a written demand for a trial.

Prosecutors Cannot Engage in “Piecemeal Litigation”

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Orland Park criminal defense attorney, DUI charge, field sobriety testWhen an Illinois police officer suspects you of DUI, you may be asked to take one or more field sobriety tests. By law you do not have to agree to such tests. Moreover, if you take a test and “fail,” based on the officer's judgment, it may be used against you as evidence in court.

Court Rejects Peoria Officer's Arrest Based on HGN Test

However, not all field sobriety tests are afforded the same weight by judges. Nor does failure necessarily prove that you were intoxicated above the legal limit in Illinois. Therefore, it is important to challenge any test result that may be inaccurate or improperly administered by the police.

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Orland Park criminal defense attorney, DUI, marijuanaWhen it comes to DUI, there is a critical difference between alcohol and illegal drugs such as marijuana. You probably know that drunk driving is only a criminal offense if your blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 percent or higher. This means that most people can have one or two beers in their system and not worry about legal liability.

However, when it comes to illegal drugs, Illinois law states that “any amount” in a person's system is unacceptable. In other words, if police find any amount of THC—the active ingredient in marijuana and cannabis products—in your system, you are guilty of DUI even if there is no evidence that you were impaired. Additionally, if you are arrested for a DUI where someone else is seriously injured, you can be charged with an “aggravated” DUI which carries stiffer criminal penalties.

Illinois Supreme Court Rejects “Medical Condition” Defense in Aggravated DUI Case

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Orland Park DUI defense attorney, Illinois police, drug userDUI does not just refer to drunk driving. It is against Illinois law to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of any drug, legal or illegal. However, police must have reasonable grounds to believe that you are actually under the influence of drugs.

Officer Lacked “Probable Cause” Based on Questionable Drug Test

This can be a problem when an officer lacks appropriate training and simply jumps to the conclusion that a driver was using drugs without adequate proof. Given that a drug arrest can not only lead to a criminal charge, but also carries a “civil penalty” in the form of an automatic driver's license suspension, such mistakes can be devastating to innocent individuals.

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Orland Park criminal defense attorney, convicted of a drug crimeIf the police conduct a lawful search and find drugs on your person—i.e., in your coat pocket—you can be charged with illegal possession of a controlled substance. However, even if you are not actually carrying any drugs, you may still be convicted of a crime if you had “constructive” possession of narcotics.

Constructive possession means that drugs are found in an area determined to be under your control.

The Elements of Constructive Possession

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Orland Park drug crimes defense lawyer, drug chargesIf you are arrested on drug charges, such as possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver, the burden is on police and prosecutors to prove you did something wrong. This includes establishing your identity and presence at the crime scene—i.e. where the alleged drug transaction took place. Many criminal convictions rely solely on police officer testimony to establish a defendant's guilt.

You Have the Right to Present a Defense

It is therefore critical that the court allow the defendant to present evidence that contradicts police testimony. This can include something as seemingly trivial as a tattoo. In fact, an Illinois appeals court recently overturned a drug crimes conviction precisely because the trial judge refused to look at the defendant's tattoos.

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Orland Park criminal defense lawyer, drug convictionIf you are on trial for a violent crime, such as assault and battery, prosecutors will make every effort to discredit you in front of the jury. Should you choose to testify—and remember, the Constitution protects your right to remain silent at trial—prosecutors may look to introduce evidence of prior criminal convictions to attack your credibility.

How “Impeachment” Works in a Criminal Trial

In legal terms, this is known as “impeachment.” Illinois courts have strict rules about what kinds of information may be used to impeach a witness. For example, evidence of a witness' prior criminal conviction is admissible under the following circumstances:

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Orland Park drug crimes defense attorney, police searchA good criminal defense lawyer will always tell you two things: Never voluntarily answer police questions—remember, you have the right to remain silent—and never consent to a warrantless search of your car. If you are pulled over on a traffic stop, you must provide the officer with your license, registration, and insurance information. But you do not have to answer any questions, even something basic like, “Where are you going?”

Defendant Faces 12 Years in Jail After “Routine” Traffic Stop

Remember, police are trained to be suspicious. Even in the context of a routine traffic stop, officers are looking for any possible sign of criminal activity, such as DUI or drug trafficking. Mere suspicion, however, does not justify an arrest or even a search of your vehicle.

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Orland Park DUI defense attorney, DUI arrestDrunk driving in Illinois carries both civil and criminal penalties. On the criminal side, a person convicted of a first DUI offense faces up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Separately, the Illinois Secretary of State's office can “summarily” suspend the license of any driver who either fails a blood-alcohol test or refuses to take one at a police officer's request.

A summary suspension is a civil matter. This means the Secretary can suspend your driver's license even if you are never charged or convicted of a criminal DUI offense. Additionally, while you can challenge a civil summary suspension in court, the state's burden of proof is much lighter than in a criminal prosecution.

License Suspension Upheld Despite Police Losing Evidence

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Orland park criminal defense attorney, stop-and-frisk searchYou are walking down the street minding your own business. A cop approaches you and starts asking questions. After a few moments, the cop decides to frisk you and discovers illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia in your pockets. You are arrested and charged with possession.

Is this legal? Can the police just “stop and frisk” you without a warrant? Unfortunately, in many cases they can and do. Illinois courts afford police wide discretion to conduct stop-and-frisk searches where a “reasonably prudent person” would believe his or her “safety was in danger.”

In theory, police are entitled to conduct these types of warrantless searches to protect against a person with a dangerous weapon who might try to hurt someone. But in practice, stop-and-frisk often leads to over-broad policing that unfairly targets certain groups. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois notes that Chicago police disproportionately target African-Americans, who represented “72 percent of stops, yet constitute just 32 percent of the city's population.” Additionally, the majority of stop-and-frisks do not recover dangerous weapons or any other illegal activity.

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Orland Park criminal defense attorney, sex crimes caseA sex crimes charge can permanently brand the accused as a “sex offender” in the eyes of the law and the public. One factor to keep in mind is not all sex crimes involve physical assault. For example, if a person “engages in a sexual act” in the “presence or virtual presence” of a child, he or she may be charged with “sexual exploitation.” This is a misdemeanor for a first offense but a felony if the defendant has any prior sex crimes conviction.

Ex-Wife's Testimony Used to Convict Defendant

In pursuing a sex crimes case, Illinois prosecutors will not hesitate to introduce any evidence designed to make the defendant look as bad as possible to the jury. Judges are supposed to keep unduly “prejudicial” evidence away from the jury, but prosecutors still have quite a bit of leeway in making their case. This includes allowing evidence that supposedly proves a defendant's motive or intent.

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Orland Park criminal defense attorney, DUI chargeNormally an Illinois police officer must have probable cause to stop you on suspicion of a DUI. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects all individuals against “unreasonable” seizures by the police. However, what if an officer stops to speak with you for another reason and subsequently discovers evidence that suggests drunk driving?

Court Reinstated Driver's License Suspension

The Fourth Amendment does not apply to “consensual encounters” with the police. In other words, if you speak to the police voluntarily, and not under coercion or detention, you cannot later invoke the Fourth Amendment to claim any evidence obtained against you was an illegal search. Of course, it may not be obvious to you at the time that an encounter was “consensual.” Consider the following case in point. 

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Orland Park criminal defense attorney, prescription drugsAlthough DUI is usually associated with drunk driving, Illinois law actually prohibits operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of any drug or controlled substance. This can even include a legal prescription drug. To avoid a DUI conviction, a defendant must prove not only that he or she had a valid prescription, but he or she also used the drug in a manner that did not prevent him or her from driving safely.

Driver Must Prove Xanax Did Not Impair His Driving

In a recent Illinois case, police arrested a man for DUI after blood and urine tests revealed the presence of alprazolam in his system. Alprazolam, better known as Xanax, is a prescription drug used to treat anxiety disorders. The defendant held a lawful prescription for Xanax, with instructions to take two pills per day.

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