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Chicago Criminal Law Blog

Why it’s increasingly difficult to prosecute public corruption

You often hear about politicians facing public corruption charges in the news. Public corruption refers to any time of instance in which a government official abuses their position of power or public trust for personal gain. Bribery, fraud, misuse of government funds and failure to disclose a conflict of interest are common examples of this crime.

While the penalties for public corruption can be severe—up to seven years in prison and $25,000 in fines for a Class 2 felony conviction in Illinois—prosecutors have had increasing challenges in obtaining convictions for such crimes. The reason—at least in part—is due to a string of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that work to the benefit of such defendants:

New hate crime law in effect in Illinois

In 2016, there were more hate crimes in Chicago than there had been in the previous five years. Instances of anti-Semitic offenses also jumped 85 percent between 2016 and 2017.

At the start of this year, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced a revision to the state's law surrounding hate crimes. According to Madigan, the influx in hate crimes in the wake of the 2016 election has necessitated greater protections for victims of such crimes.

How can I get my sentence reduced?

If you’ve been charged with a crime, you may be feeling hopeless at the prospect of spending a certain amount of your future behind bars. However, while the law assigns certain penalties to certain types of crimes, there is still some flexibility for reducing your sentence—both before and after conviction.

Today we examine a few common ways of getting your sentence reduced:

Understanding double jeopardy and its exceptions 

Double jeopardy is an important protection to understand. Under the Fifth Amendment, an individual cannot be tried twice for the same crime. This means that if you went to trial and were acquitted, the prosecution can’t try the same case against you again. It also means that you can’t be punished twice for the same crime.

It is worth noting that double jeopardy protections don’t apply to all charges; the charges must be criminal. Criminal charges are charges brought against you by the state—not by a plaintiff—and the penalties for such charges typically involve a loss of liberty (probation, suspension, jail or prison time).

Why it could pay to get a makeover before you go to court

Attractive people get the advantages in life. Statistically, they tend to land better jobs and earn higher salaries. But a recent study shows that attractive defendants also tend to win the sympathy from jurors more often than their unattractive counterparts.

Legal researchers at Cornell University conducted a study, “When emotionality trumps reason: a study of individual processing style and juror bias.” In it, the findings indicated that attractive defendants had a lower chance of being found guilty. If they were convicted, their sentences were typically more lenient than for unattractive defendants convicted of similar crimes.

U.S. Senator acquitted of bribery

In 2015, U.S. Senator from New Jersey Robert Menendez was charged with 18 counts of corruption, which included allegations of fraud, conspiracy and bribery. Seven of these counts--all bribery offenses--were connected to Mendenez's relationship with his long-time friend, Dr. Salomon Melgen. Melgen purportedly bought Menendez a lavish trip to Paris and donated to his political campaign in exchange for Mendendez's assistance with a medical dispute, a port security contract and securing U.S. visas for Melgen's girlfriends.

When the case went to trial last year, the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, resulting in a mistrial. Menendez's lawyers then pushed for acquittal--which the court granted last week for the seven counts of bribery. It ruled that the prosecution produced insufficient evidence of the gifts and donations having a direct impact on the senator's political actions.

The recidivism algorithm: a biased sentencing tool?

You may be under the impression that the sentence a defendant receives in court is based on legal guidelines which attach a certain type of crime to a certain amount of prison time. That’s not entirely true. A mathematical tool is also used to determine recidivism—that is, the likelihood that a convicted criminal will commit another offense within two years. The higher the score the recidivism algorithm produces, the longer the defendant’s sentence. The problem is: the math is biased against black people.

How can math be racist? Researchers for Science Advances recently sought to answer this question.

Does your case have grounds for appeal?

If you were charged with a criminal offense and found guilty, it’s important to understand that a guilty verdict does not have to be the end of the road for you. Under some circumstances, you may be eligible to appeal the ruling—that is, to convince a higher court to review your case for some error in the trial proceedings in the hope that they will overturn your conviction or reduce your sentence.

To file an appeal, your case must meet one of the following criteria:

Is the legalization of marijuana in danger?

At the end of the 21st century, California legalized marijuana for medicinal use. Since that time, more and more states have been following suit. To date, 29 states—including Illinois—have legalized marijuana for this purpose, and six of these states also permit the recreational use of the drug.

Nonetheless, the sale and consumption of marijuana for any purpose remains prohibited under federal law. This has left growers and distributors in a tight spot—compliant under state law but still at risk of conviction for federal offenses.

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Darryl A. Goldberg
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