Chicago Criminal Defense Blog

Unconscious bias could affect judgments in court

Bias in the criminal justice system is a major concern in Illinois and across the country. Disparate sentencing and penalties have led to nationwide calls for criminal justice reform. However, one of the most concerning aspects of bias are the forms that are unintentional or subconscious. It can be more challenging to prove unconscious bias, but the effects on a defendant may be significant. Unconscious bias is a major field of study for natural and social scientists looking into how brain activity can affect behavior. Results have indicated that unconscious beliefs and social stereotypes can affect judgment even in contradiction with expressed beliefs.

Unconscious biases can affect the way that people interpret actions and motivations, judge people's actions and capacity for change, and make an array of decisions. While studies show that it is a common human phenomenon, this could also apply to judges making long-term decisions about the fate of a criminal defendant's life or liberty. Other studies show that judges regularly refer more on their intuition than on the power of deliberation, while holding strong beliefs about their capacity for objective thinking and decision-making. This can pose a danger, because intuition can be far more likely to be influenced by subconscious biases than a clearly laid-out, thoughtful process.

U.S. House passes bill making animal cruelty a federal crime

Illinois animal lovers might be happy to learn that the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill that makes animal cruelty a federal crime. The measure was passed by a unanimous vote on Oct. 22.

The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, also known as PACT, expands on another anti-animal cruelty bill that Congress passed in 2010. That law made it illegal to create and distribute videos of animals being crushed or otherwise tortured and killed, but it did not outlaw specific acts of animal cruelty. PACT, which was sponsored by Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., would close that loophole and make it a federal crime for anyone to intentionally burn, drown, impale, suffocate or otherwise harm non-human mammals, birds, reptiles or amphibians.

Man faces multiple federal charges

An Illinois resident was charged with multiple counts of money laundering after it was discovered that he was running an illegal sports betting business. The 35-year-old defendant paid a fee to use an online sports betting platform in Costa Rica. He would then collect money from bettors and pay out their winnings in cash. In addition to money laundering, the defendant was also charged with two counts of bankruptcy fraud.

Authorities say that the defendant concealed income that he generated from running the gambling ring in a bankruptcy proceeding. He was seeking to discharge a $1.5 million judgment against him, which was ultimately settled for $4,500. If the defendant is convicted of all five counts of money laundering, he could spend up to 100 years in jail. Each count of bankruptcy fraud carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Businessman sentenced in Operation Varsity Blues case

Illinois residents may have heard that actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced for her role in the Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scam. However, a second parent has also been convicted for paying an individual $250,000 to help get his son into college as a water polo recruit. The 53-year-old businessman was sentenced to four months in jail in addition to a $95,000 fine and 500 hours of community service.

In court, the man said that his actions were unacceptable and the opposite of doing what was best for his son. The judge, however, said that the man's actions were more about his own status as opposed to doing what was best for his child. She decided to sentence him to time in prison because of a perceived lack of remorse. The man did place at least some of the blame on the individual he paid to help get his son into USC.

Felicity Huffman sentenced in college admissions case

Illinois residents may be aware that several celebrities have been charged in connection with a college admissions scandal. Actress Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty in May to paying an admissions consultant $15,000 to improve her daughter's SAT scores, and the 'Desperate Housewives" and 'American Crime" star appeared in court on Sept. 13 to learn her fate. Huffman stated in a Sept. 4 letter to the court that she was deeply ashamed of using her wealth and influence to help her daughter pursue a college education.

Prosecutors have made it clear that they want to make an example of Huffman and other celebrities involved in the scheme. They urged the judge to go beyond sentencing guidelines by sending Huffman to prison for a month followed by supervised release. They also wanted the actress to be fined $20,000. Huffman's attorneys claim that their client played only a minor role in the admissions scheme and asked the judge to sentence her to a year of probation and 250 hours of community service. They did not object to the $20,000 fine.

Illinois man faces drug charges after arrest

A man is facing drug charges after he was arrested by the Joliet Police Department. The 27-year-old man was arrested on Aug. 14, and he was charged with eight criminal offenses mostly related to drugs. The police accuse the man of dealing cocaine. He is charged with one Class X felony charge, accusing him of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Specifically, police claim that the man was found on Aug. 12 with an amount of cocaine between 15 and 100 grams.

The man was also charged with possession of a gun without a firearm owner's identification card, which is required under state gun laws. The man had .357-caliber ammunition with him, and although he previously had the required card registered with the state police, it was not with him when the ammunition was found.

What actions could lead to credit card fraud charges?

Sometimes, people throw around the term "fraud" as an insult to someone who may not have met their expectations. While some people on the receiving end of this insult may simply rebuff the comment and move on, you may not have that ability if authorities believe that you committed fraud.

Any type of criminal fraud can have serious repercussions, and if authorities suspect that you committed credit card fraud, you likely know that you could be in a world of trouble. However, you do not have to immediately feel guilty because you have the right to defend against criminal allegations. Gaining information on the crime of which authorities have accused you may be beneficial.

App companies routinely hand over private data to cops

Illinois readers who are concerned about privacy issues should be aware that many tech and app companies readily share customer information with law enforcement agencies without a warrant, according to a report by Government Technology magazine. These companies include Ring, Lyft, Uber, Netflix, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Venmo.

According to the report, law enforcement officers routinely ask people for footage from their Ring video doorbell systems, which send videos of suspicious activity to a consumer's smartphone. If a consumer refuses, authorities can get the video directly from Ring, which is owned by Amazon. In fact, Amazon is so interested in police having access to Ring footage that it is urging law enforcement agencies to join community boards across the country so that they can persuade consumers to hand over incriminating videos.

Diversion pleas may surface on criminal background checks

People in Illinois who are accused of certain types of crimes may agree to settle the issue through a diversion plea. In these circumstances, the person pleads guilty and agrees to other circumstances, such as attending a program or paying a fine. As a result, the plea is not considered to be a conviction under state law. However, after a decision by the 7th Circuit court, these pleas may be considered "convictions" and reported in some types of criminal background checks for the purpose of employment.

Background checks are regulated by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. Under the law, arrests more than seven years old may not be reported, but there is no similar time limit on reporting past convictions. In one case involving the law, the federal appeals court interpreted "conviction" as any case disposition including a guilty plea, even if the charges were dismissed under a state diversion plan. The case emerged after a background check company reported a woman's 20-year-old diversion plea on a battery charge to a potential landlord, despite the fact that she had no conviction under Illinois law after successfully completing a brief supervision sentence.

Man pleads guilty to charges related to online drug distribution

A man who distributed fentanyl in Illinois and throughout the country pleaded guilty on July 16 to all charges against him. The 34-year-old man was known as "The Drug Llama" online, where he sold the drugs on the dark web's "Dream Market," a place people went to get illegal substances.

The man was taken into custody in San Diego. In January, he was indicted along with a 31-year-old woman who was also accused of maintaining the account with him. The man was charged with one count of misbranding drugs, one count of selling counterfeit drugs, five counts of illegally distributing fentanyl and one count of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl. He will be sentenced on Oct. 29.

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