Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Raymond G. Wigell to teach at 2013 Clarence Darrow Death Penalty Defense College at DePaul University College of Law

The Law Offices of Raymond G. Wigell, Ltd., is pleased to announce that Raymond Wigell has accepted a faculty position at the Clarence Darrow Death Penalty Defense College, taking place June 3-7, 2013, at the DePaul University College of Law in Chicago.

The Clarence Darrow Death Penalty Defense College is a week-long intensive seminar held annually in June and led by Professor Andrea D. Lyon, Associate Dean of Clinical Programs at DePaul University and director of the Center for Justice in Capital Cases. Seasoned death penalty-qualified attorneys from all over the United States bring their current capital cases to a forum that will allow them to brainstorm procedure, strategies, and trial techniques with their colleagues that are veterans of capital punishment defense.

The Center for Justice in Capital Cases organizes and presents seminars featuring nationally recognized authorities on subjects such as trial investigation, mitigation work, jury selection and management, forensic pathology, and managing lawyer stress in the area of capital defense. Attorneys, investigators, and mitigators also gather in discipline-specific meetings. The integration of the attorneys, investigators, and mitigators in plenary sessions is critical in the preparation of a death penalty case.

The combination of the plenary and discipline-specific sessions makes the Clarence Darrow Death Penalty College an exceptional experience for its attendees.

This will be Raymond Wigell's sixth time serving as a faculty member, and he will draw on his many years of experience as a trial attorney for the Office of the Public Defender of Cook County, a private criminal defense attorney, and as Certified Lead Counsel, State of Illinois Capital Litigation Trial Bar.

Online registration is available for death penalty-qualified attorneys that wish to be Darrow College participants in 2013. If you know a capital defense attorney, mitigation specialist, or fact investigator (or a team) that would benefit from the training, please visit or share the link to the Clarence Darrow Death Penalty Defense College, where registration information is available. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

In Memoriam of Aaron Swartz; Concerns About the (In)Justice System

On January 11, 2013, Aaron Swartz committed suicide. Those outside the online activism, open access, and social media circles may not be familiar with this young man, but he is responsible for protecting many of our rights to open access and our internet privacy. At the age of fourteen, Aaron co-authored RSS, which is now vital to most aspects of content creation and content consumption online. He created Reddit, a very popular social media site (which knows its fair share of legal troubles, since some members use the forum to trade child pornography). Aaron was also the founder of DemandProgress, a site and online network of activists that became a very powerful tool in fighting COICA (Combatting Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act), the precursor to SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act), which would have severely curtailed our online freedoms and privacy if passed by Congress.

While at MIT, Swartz used his access to online academic databases to download more than 400 academic journals and make them available to the public for free. According to the government, his reason for doing this was that the research written up for these journals was publicly funded, but due to the publishing methods used, the general public had very little access to this vast body of scholarship. Membership plans were pricy, and free membership was only available to those privileged few admitted to undergraduate and graduate programs where the college or university paid for access and allowed students to use the journals.

It is entirely possible, however, that Swartz was doing what a lot of hackers do and honing his skills with new challenges – the digital, online version of climbing the mountain “because it’s there.”

JSTOR, one of the biggest online journal databases and certainly quite a litigious body, was aware of the cyber-trespass, but did not press charges. It was the United States government that pressed charges and, relying on draconian computer laws, tried the case that resulted in a sentence of thirty-five years in prison for this liberation of publicly-funded knowledge and scholarship.

After the verdict, on January 11, 2013, Aaron Swartz committed suicide.

The internet mourned the loss of this young visionary and champion of net neutrality. Lawrence Lessig, an academic and political advocate that is fiercely supportive of online rights and a reform of computer laws, remembered his young friend and colleague, calling him an “incredible soul.” Ronaldo Lemos, the head of Creative Commons Brazil, shared his email exchanges with Swartz, calling him an “original thinker.” Rafael Reif, the President of MIT, issued a statement as well and announced an internal investigation at the university. The Daily Beast published a great write-up about this Free Internet activist, and ABC News reported that Swartz’s death fueled an MIT probe and sparked a White House petition to oust the prosecutor that tried and won the case.

Sadly, the story of an individual using the Internet on his computer and catching a long prison sentence is nothing new or unfamiliar at the Law Offices of Raymond G. Wigell, Ltd. Since he started practicing in 1975, Raymond Wigell has represented many people accused of various online crimes, and in most cases, the government proposes unreasonably long sentences that do not fit the crime.

One particularly memorable case that the Law Offices of Raymond G. Wigell, Ltd., handled involved two young computer hackers. These men were part of a small group of hackers that honed their skills by hacking various software programs and switching servers and bouncing IP addresses. They never sold any of the information or material they hacked; instead, they shared it among themselves and those they trusted. But they hacked one program too many, and the US government caught wind of it and pressed charges. Though this group of “techies” argued that they didn’t harm anyone because they never sold any information, the government maintained that hacking and piracy violated the rights of the owners.

The two men represented by the Law Offices of Raymond G. Wigell, Ltd., accepted responsibility for their wrong-doing but argued that it was without personal gain. They only hacked the programs to see if they could actually do it. . On the government’s end, however, motive doesn’t matter. People who are engaging in silly, harmless conduct online with regard to piracy and hacking are treated the same as those that have malicious intent, or those who act with financial gain as their only motive. The government, when going for prison time, consults the sentencing guidelines and often pushes for the maximum years available, which can be ten, or twenty, or even more than that.

In this case, the sentencing guidelines indicated a sentence of 10 years in prison for one of the men, and Raymond Wigell was able to argue to the judge that a term of 2 years was appropriate under all of the circumstances. For the other man, Raymond was able to argue and successfully get him sentenced to probation.

While cybercrimes are serious, and involve things like hacking, piracy, distribution of pirated materials, and even things relating to sex offender registration and the like, the problem is that often times the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Between overzealous prosecutors, like the one in charge of the case against Aaron Swartz, and fundamental flaws in our sentencing guidelines and justice system at large, many people are being sent to prison without a compelling reason, or being held there longer than is reasonable or appropriate.

Aaron Swartz’s death is a tragedy. He was a young man with a full life ahead of him, and the potential for even more greatness. He was brilliant, innovative, original, a revolutionary thinker and a celebrated advocate of net neutrality and open access. In our digital age, we need more “hacktivists” like him (despite how online security interests try to frame the idea of hacktivism and hacktivists as something threatening and disruptive).

But in our outrage about the entirely preventable death of a brilliant young man loved throughout the Internet by the lowliest middle-schooler with a Reddit account to a leader of political and academic discourse about the Internet like Lawrence Lessig, we must not forget about the others.

The others are the countless individuals who didn’t create Reddit or co-author RSS, but who were also given unjustly long prison sentences. They are the ones who faced a cold, unfeeling justice system and lost. They are the drug offenders who get lengthy prison sentences for a relatively small amount of contraband. They are the repeat drug offenders who get years upon years tacked on to their prison term instead of treatment that could actually rehabilitate them and help them once more become productive members of society. They are the non-white members of the population that face a higher risk of arrest and lengthier incarceration simply for the color of their skin.

The justice system fails them every single day, but we don’t hear about it on the nightly news. The only people who hear about these people are their family members, their friends, and their defense attorneys. The justice system failed them just like it failed Aaron Swartz. While Aaron and Aaron alone is responsible for the choice he made, it is certainly true that the outcome of his case weighed heavily on his decision.

We mourn Aaron Swartz, and we should be mourning the other men and women like him, who weren’t prodigies and weren’t friends of Lawrence Lessig. We should use our outrage at Aaron Swartz not to kick up the dust now only to let it settle, but to use it as an impetus for a serious discussion of the way our justice system functions, and an examination of sentencing guidelines that, despite their purpose, do not always ensure that justice is served.

In mourning Aaron Swartz and the brilliant life extinguished, we should work toward changing the system that extinguishes countless brilliant, productive lives every day.

The Law Offices of Raymond G. Wigell has represented many people accused of hacking, piracy, and other Internet crimes. If you or a loved one is in trouble, you have hopefully realized from this post that this is not something to brush aside. The US government takes cybercrimes very seriously, and if you or a loved one is being investigated for or charged with any Internet crimes, time is of the essence. Contact the Law Offices of Raymond G. Wigell, Ltd., at (708) 481 – 4800. Attorneys are available 24/7 and the first consultation is free. Let us use our 37 years of experience in criminal defense to help you in your time of need.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Illinois Outlaws Shark Fins

On January 1, 2013, a new law went into effect that affects what you may or may not see on your menu when you dine out in Chicago. Public Act 97-733 prohibits anyone in the state of Illinois from possessing, selling, trading, distributing, or trying to sell a shark fin.

This is wonderful news for animal rights’ advocates, who have long condemned the brutal practice by which shark fins are harvested. In the vast majority of cases, sharks are pulled from the ocean in nets and deposited on the floor of the fishing ships. Workers quickly, and without any kind of anesthesia, saw off several fins before grabbing the bloodied shark and tossing it back into the ocean. Without its fins, the shark cannot swim, and thus cannot hunt for food or escape its predators. It slowly starves to death, unless it is eaten alive before it has a chance to do so.

Chicago sits on Lake Michigan, which has long been one of the United States’s great trading ports. Cargo from all over the world comes to the Windy City’s docks and is unloaded on our shores - cargo that often includes shark fins. There are currently several restaurants in the city that reportedly advertise and serve shark fin soup.

But on January 1, 2013, these restaurants and others were forced to permanently take Shark Fin soup off the menu. This soup is favored in Chinese and Korean cultures and traditionally served at weddings, since it supposedly boosts virility. This year and from now on, however, lovers will have to look elsewhere for their amorous aids, because Illinois has taken a serious step in combating this violent attack on the world’s sharks.

If you or a loved one is being investigated or has been charged with possession of any contraband, including but certainly not limited to shark fins (we’re thinking marijuana, narcotics, methamphetamine, firearms, etc), then time is of the essence. Contact the Law Offices of Raymond G.Wigell, Ltd., at (708) 481 – 4800. Attorneys are available 24/7 and the first consultation is free. With our 36 years of experience, let us help you through every single stage of the criminal investigation and prosecution. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Illinois Removes A Roadblock on the Road To Rehabilitation for Convicted Felons

Public Act 97-1113 went into effect on January 1, 2013, in the state of Illinois. It states that the time frame a convicted felon must wait after completion of his sentence before applying for a Certificate of Good Conduct or a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities has been reduced from three (3) years to two (2) years. This law also allows a person who was convicted of a felony more than twice to receive these certificates, as well as a person residing in Illinois who was convicted of a crime outside of the state of Illinois.

A convicted felon’s road to rehabilitation – in terms of adjusting to life outside of prison and resuming normal social activities including working – is quite difficult. There are many restrictions placed on felons, including who they may associate with, which items they are not permitted to possess, and much more. One of the biggest obstacles they face is finding employment. It should come as no surprise that many employers are reluctant to hire convicted felons, and so these people are often forced to seek lower-paying positions, like in fast food and other service industries, despite their education and professional training. This way, convicted felons are sentenced yet again, but this time to a life of legally sanctioned discrimination in things like housing, education, and especially employment.

This is where the Certificate of Good Standing comes in. It provides evidence that an ex-convict has been rehabilitated for purposes of employment. A convicted felon may show his prospective employer the certificate and this, in addition to various federal programs that provide incentives to employers that hire rehabilitated convicts, eases slightly the path to being gainfully employed for those who have been disenfranchised by the state in this way.

Once an ex-felon has a job, an important hurdle has been overcome. That individual is now able to lawfully earn an income and pay for basic needs like housing and food. With gainful employment, an ex-felon no longer feels strongly compelled to return to a life of crime in order to survive, and can turn his attentions to other desires and goals toward self-improvement. When this is the case, everyone benefits.

Make no mistake: it is still very difficult for convicted felons to put their crimes behind them, turn over a new leaf, and resume leading normal lives. But Illinois lawmakers have taken a small step in making it easier for ex-convicts to gain employment by making the waiting period to receive this certificate 33% shorter.

There is still much work to be done if we intend to commit ourselves to the honorable task of helping those convicted of felonies resume their rightful place as upstanding, productive members of society, but baby steps are still important steps. Anything that extends a helping hand to convicted felons, who are quite a politically, economically, and socially vulnerable group in our country, deserves appreciation and the renewing of our commitment to rehabilitation.

If you or a loved one is currently dealing with a criminal investigation or prosecution on the misdemeanor or felony level, time is of the essence. Contact the Law Offices of Raymond G.Wigell, Ltd., at (708) 481 – 4800. Attorneys are available 24/7, and the first consultation is free. With our 36 years of experience, let us help you in your time of need.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Illinois Residents Can No Longer Make Decisions About Underage Drinking

 On January 1, 2013, Public Act 97-1049 went into effect. This law seeks to crack down on parents (or guardians, like other relatives, or baby-sitters, etc.) who permit underage drinking on property they own. Not only is it a crime to allow underage drinking at the parent or guardian’s home, but it is now also a crime to allow underage drinking on property under the parent or guardian’s control, such as a barn, cabin, boathouse, or guesthouse. Illinois legislators are seeking to reduce instances of underage drinking by making it clear that law enforcement may now more forcefully target parents and guardians with this new law. They hope that this law will serve as a deterrent and make parents even more vigilant about what their children are doing on their own property.

Underage drinking is a problem, especially when those teenagers compound that violation with something like driving a car, snowmobile, four-wheeler, or power boat, or participating in general rowdiness. The fact that underage drinking can be a very serious problem is not disputed.

However, as with most situations, there are limits. Many parents see no problem with allowing their children a sip of wine once a week with dinner. Often times, parents may see fit to allow their teenager to consume a limited amount of beer or champagne on a special occasion, such as graduating from high school, or enlisting in the armed forces. (Indeed, the argument that it is ridiculous that one can engage in armed combat for his country but still is not permitted to consume alcohol is one that is commonly made by critics of the prohibition.) Furthermore, in many cultures, serving children under 18 a small amount of significantly watered down alcohol is not at all a cause for concern.

There is no argument that parents actively allowing their children to consume large quantities of alcohol and then allowing those children to go out in public, where they cause problems for others as well as law enforcement, is irresponsible and should not be condoned.

But there is a big difference between being that irresponsible with the safety of one’s child and the safety of others, and, for example, sharing a microbrew with one’s nineteen-year-old the day he enlists for service.

The laws governing parental involvement in underage drinking do not consider such differences. Worse, they take the decision as to what is or isn’t appropriate for children out of their parents’ hands, instead enforcing a decision arrived at by a group of lawmakers in Springfield, one that ignores nuance and the right of a parent to decide what should or shouldn’t occur under his or her own roof.

Regardless of the arguments to be made against such a decision, this law is currently in effect in the state of Illinois. It is important to be aware that penalties have been increased for parents or guardians who allow underage drinking anywhere on their property, so that Illinois parents can better protect themselves from criminal investigation and prosecution.  

If you have any questions or concerns about this, or are in the midst of an investigation involving any kind of underage drinking crime or any alcohol or drug-related offense, contact the Law Offices of Raymond G.Wigell, Ltd., at (708) 481 – 4800. Attorneys are available 24/7 and the first consultation is free. With our 36 years of experience, let us help you through every stage of the criminal investigation and prosecution. 

Content written by +Law Offices of Raymond G. Wigell, Ltd.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Illinois Takes Positive Step In Dealing with First-Time Drug Offenders

More than one hundred new laws went into effect on January 1, 2013, in the state of Illinois, and while some are restrictive, others show compassion and forward-thinking by our legislators. Public Act 97-889, now in effect, allows a first-time offender charged with or convicted of possession of less than 15 grams of methamphetamine (also known simply as “meth” or “crystal meth”) to receive treatment in a drug abuse program rather than a prison term.

This is excellent news for those who exercise poor judgment and find themselves either charged or convicted with possession in this amount, but also for advocacy groups and Illinois taxpayers. Countless studies have shown that people with substance abuse problems are unable to receive the help they need inside prison walls, and often enough, drug problems are exacerbated while one serves jail or prison time. Advocacy groups have long supported getting drug offenders treatment for their underlying addiction that causes them to abuse controlled substances like methamphetamine, marijuana,cocaine, prescription narcotics, and more. They argue that prison time does not address the actual problem and is the reason we see high rates of recidivism, with people becoming trapped in the revolving door of the criminal incarceration system.

Not only do first-time offenders and advocacy groups have reason to breathe a sigh of relief over this new law, but Illinois taxpayers benefit as well. The rates of incarceration for minor drug possession – especially among African American and Latino men – are disproportionately high, as are rates of recidivism. What generally happens is that a young man is convicted of possession of a small amount of a controlled substance and incarcerated. After the sentence is served, the young man is released but, because his underlying substance abuse problem was not addressed or treated, soon finds himself returning to the object of his addiction. He is charged again, and with a prior conviction on his record, it is quite easy to send him back to jail or prison, depending on how he is charged.

This unfortunate cycle repeats itself to the detriment of the many. The young man’s life effectively comes to a halt, and the lives of his family members are similarly disrupted during the course of his absence. Society in general loses the benefit of one of its productive members, and Illinois taxpayers are stuck footing the bill for yet another cog in the bloated prison system. Prison overcrowding is a huge problem nationwide, and there are many people in the system, like first time drug offenders convicted of possessing relatively small amounts of a controlled substance, for whom the argument for incarceration is not particularly compelling.

Thankfully, Illinois lawmakers have stepped up and chosen to address the treatment vs. incarceration problem and have sided with getting people the help they need. Hopefully, with educational programs, support groups, and treatment, Illinois can help these individuals deal with their addictions so they can resume their lives, steer clear of the justice system, and continue being productive, upstanding members of the community.

If you or a loved one is currently dealing with a criminal investigation or prosecution on the misdemeanor or felony level, time is of the essence. Contact the Law Offices of Raymond G. Wigell, Ltd., at (708) 481 – 4800. Attorneys are available 24/7, and the first consultation is free. With our 37 years of experience, let us help you in your time of need.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year, New Laws- Chicago Defense Attorney Explains Law on Wiretaps

​Further Erosion of Civil Liberties as New Wiretap Law Goes Into Effect in Illinois,
Changes Affect Felony Drug Violation Investigations

On January 1, 2013, a new law governing wiretaps will go into effect. Public Act 97-846 adds a new exception to existing Illinois wiretap laws and allows a law enforcement officer, or a person acting at the direction of one, to record or listen with the aid of an eavesdropping device (commonly referred to as a wire or bug) to a conversation during the course of an investigation of a felony drug violation. Aside from this addition itself, what is especially noteworthy is that now, law enforcement does not need a court order to use a wiretap. Instead, a wiretap can occur if approved by a State’s Attorney who, as the title implies, acts at the behest of the state, whereas a judge is traditionally seen to be an objective, neutral figure in such matters, favoring neither the state in its persecution power, or those suspected of wrong-doing.

Upon reading about this law, you might wonder what exactly a “felony drug violation” is. It certainly sounds terrible, and conjures up images of mountains of cocaine or bags upon bags of prescription narcotics - surely it’s something that only the Scarface-types are familiar with. Surely a felony drug violation isn’t something that the average American and Illinois resident has to worry about.

You may be surprised. While mountains of cocaine and sacks of Vicodin pills surely are a felony drug violation, there are many other things that fall under the umbrella of such a term, and trigger this law, granting police officers or their informants (who could be your neighbors or a friend or even a relative) the power to use a wiretap to listen in on and even record your private conversations.

Suppose, for example, that you notice your teenager’s car is in dire need of an oil change, or the cold weather caused one of the windshield wipers to snap off. You decide to take it in to the mechanic by yourself, and while driving there, you are pulled over. When the officer asks, you consent to a search of your car, because you have nothing to hide, aside from the week-old Big Mac wrappers your kid left on the backseat. But during the search, the officer finds several joints neatly sealed in a plastic bag - whether they belong to your kid or to one of his friends, you have no clue. But you’ve just driven yourself right into a felony drug violation.

Suppose you have been out celebrating the New Year with your friends, and downed a few beers in the process despite the fact that you had just a light dinner hours earlier. While at the bar, you get a call about a family emergency, so you quickly say your goodbyes and leave, desperate to get home and be with your loved ones. You’re weaving a bit, and you know that this isn’t the smartest thing you’ve ever done, but you need to get home. On the way, you get pulled over and the cop smells alcohol on your breath. He makes you go through several field sobriety tests, and the clock ticks away. You’re concerned about your family, so you get agitated. The officer decides you are behaving in a threatening manner in addition to doing poorly on your sobriety tests. He runs your information and finds out that this isn’t the first time you’ve made the poor decision to drive after drinking a bit. Congratulations, because you’re starting 2013 with a felony drug violation.

These are situations that we hope never to find ourselves in, but regrettably, mistakes happen. There are extenuating circumstances; we have low moments; any number of things can drive us to make decisions we would not normally make. Unfortunately, some of these decisions can result in the unknowing or accidental commission of felonies.

Some of those felonies are drug violations, which means that on January 1, 2013, those felony drug violations will trigger this new law and allow police officers in Illinois to use wiretaps while they investigate you. Your personal conversations, conducted in public on your cell phone or even in the privacy of your home with a family member, can be recorded by the state and used against you, all in the name of justice.

This is far from justice - it is the erosion of civil liberties. Be aware of these changes going into effect in Illinois and be better able to protect yourself.

But if mistakes happen, be sure to know who to call. The Law Offices of Raymond G. Wigell, Ltd., has more than 35 years of experience defending drug cases, and our attorneys are available to help you in your time of need.  If you are under investigation for or charged with a drug crime call (708) 481-4800 to speak with a criminal lawyer 24/7.

A new exception has been added, and allows a law enforcement officer, or a person acting at the direction of a law enforcement officer, to record or listen with the aid of an eavesdropping device to a conversation in the course of an investigation of a felony drug violation. Instead of a court order, the wiretap can occur if approved by a State’s Attorney. The person listening or recording must be a party to the conversation.