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Determining a Defendant’s Fitness to Stand Trial

fitness to stand trial

Illinois law presumes that a criminal defendant facing charges for assault or another crime is fit to be tried and receive a sentence. However, the law also recognizes that circumstances might render a defendant unable to comprehend the proceedings against him or to help with his own case. If the defendant has a mental or physical condition that raises a bona fide doubt regarding his fitness to stand trial, then the court will hold a hearing to determine the issue.

The fitness of the defendant can be highlighted by the defense, prosecution or the court any time before a plea is made or prior to or throughout the course of a trial. The defendant may request that a qualified professional examine his fitness. Once the defendant’s fitness has been brought into question, the prosecution is required to show (by a preponderance of the evidence) that the defendant is fit. However, the court may also conduct its own inquiry, including the calling of witnesses.

The defense or prosecution can demand that the defendant’s fitness be determined by a jury. The court may also order a jury trial sua sponte (on its own motion). However, if the issue is raised after the trial has begun or before sentencing, it is too late for a jury trial. In that case the court will determine the defendant’s fitness.

The Fitness Examination

Here are a few things to understand about a fitness examination:

• If the fitness issue involves a mental condition, the court will order a licensed physician, clinical psychologist or psychiatrist to examine the defendant;
• If the fitness issue involves a physical condition, the court will appoint a physician (or other experts as needed) to examine the defendant;
• If the defendant is in custody, the court will direct the location of the examination;
• If the defendant is not in custody, the person conducting the examination will direct the location; and
• The need for a fitness examination will not affect a defendant’s release on bail or pending application for bail.

The person who conducts the fitness examination must submit a written report within 30 days of the court order. That report must include:

• An explanation regarding how the expert reached a diagnosis, including the facts upon which that diagnosis was based; and
• A description of the defendant’s mental or physical condition, including whether it impairs his ability to understand the proceedings against him and/or to assist in his own defense.

If the expert determines that the defendant has a disability that renders him unfit to stand trial, the report must also indicate whether the defendant, under proper treatment, could attain fitness within one year. The expert must provide an explanation if he cannot form an opinion about the likelihood of the defendant attaining fitness.

If criminal charges are brought against you, it is imperative that you understand what is happening. If you (or a loved one) has a mental or physical condition that renders you (or him) unfit to stand trial, then you need a Joliet criminal defense attorney to protect your (his) rights. Contact us today for a free consultation. We can assist those in Frankfort, Joliet and the surrounding area.

Illinois Governor Signs Bail Reform Measure

Illinois bail reform

If you were to ask several random people to list the top three current problems with our criminal justice system, there is a good chance that many of the respondents would include overcrowded jails and prisons in their list. The concern over the nation’s large prison population is certainly founded in truth, and while the issue exists nationwide, taking action to remedy the problem falls largely to each individual state. Earlier this month, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed a bill that is designed to lower the state’s incarceration numbers. The new law promises to reduce the number of criminal suspects who are forced to sit in jail and wait for a trial simply because they cannot afford to post bail.

Bipartisan Cooperation

For many Illinois residents, the cooperation between Republicans and Democrats on the issue of criminal justice reform was welcome and refreshing. “We, as the people of Illinois, can agree (this) is a fair way to address…things that are not done fairly,” said Democratic Senator Donne Trotter of Chicago. Republican House Minority Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs agreed, “I think it’s important, it’s right, it’s fair, and it’s important for our society.” Durkin also commented that the bill is “tough on crime but also smart on crime.”

Provisions in the New Law

The new law went into effect immediately upon being signed by the governor and includes some noteworthy provisions. It specifies that a suspect has the right to an attorney during bail hearings, an important element in receiving fair treatment. The law also specifies that judges are encouraged to use non-monetary conditions of release whenever possible—such as electronic monitoring and curfews. Monetary bail can still be used in situations where the suspect is found to present a flight risk or a danger to the community. The new law is primarily intended to address the rights of non-violent offenders.

In jurisdictions around Illinois, prosecutors have expressed their intent to cooperate with the law’s efforts to reduce the population of local and county jails. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said that her office will immediately begin supporting the release of suspects without cash bond for minor offenses. She acknowledged that forcing suspects to remain in jail because they are poor is unjust and that the new law offers a level of fairness to a difficult situation.

Bail Questions
If a member of your family has been arrested and charged with a crime, you may have many questions about the state’s bail system. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Joliet to get the answers you need. Call 815-740-4025 for a free, confidential consultation today.

Illinois Law Protects Those Who Seek Help in Overdose Situations

will county heroin

Over the last several years, the number of deaths associated with drug overdoses has skyrocketed. In 2015, more than 52,400 individuals died as the result of a drug overdose. Last year, estimates place the number of deaths at around 59,000. These statistics indicate that overdose deaths now claim more lives each year than auto accidents and shootings.

Of course, public service campaigns and educational outreach programs have attempted to convince individuals to stay away from addictive drugs, but, unfortunately, they do not seem to be working all that well. States around the country have noticed a marked resurgence of heroin, along with fentanyl—a synthetic opioid that is often wildly unpredictable and dangerous. In light of the growing problem, many states, including Illinois have enacted laws that offer a level of immunity to a person who seeks help during a possible overdose situation.

Eliminating Fear

Consider a scenario in which you and some friends are having a small party at your house. Without your knowledge, one of your friends brought heroin with him, and during the course of the party, he goes into the bathroom. A few minutes later, you hear a crash, so you open the bathroom door to find your friend on the floor, and he appears to have overdosed. What should you do? If you call an ambulance, will the police come and decide that you were responsible for the drugs because it was your house? Will you be arrested? And, what about your friend? Even if he gets medical help, will he go to jail?

Making Help Accessible

In 2012, Illinois lawmakers decided that the fear of criminal penalties should not dissuade individuals from seeking help in an emergency situation. They passed a law that offers limited immunity for an overdose victim and the person who seeks medical attention on an overdose victim’s behalf. Specifically, the measure—sometimes referred to a “Good Samaritan” law—provides that neither a “person who is experiencing an overdose” or a “person who, in good faith, seeks or obtains emergency medical assistance for someone experiencing an overdose” will be charged with a felony for drug possession as the result of the call for help. The police may also not use the information provided by the call for help as probable cause for obtaining a warrant or conducting a search.

Important Exceptions

It is important to realize that the law does not offer complete immunity from prosecution in every situation. Possession charges may still be possible depending on the amount and type of drug present at the scene. For example, immunity is only guaranteed for up to three grams of heroin or cocaine or six grams of LSD or PCP. Immunity may also not be extended if the police already had probable cause or reasonable suspicion to conduct a search or to execute an arrest.

Seek Legal Guidance

If you have been arrested and are facing drug possession charges as the result of helping someone suffering from an overdose, contact an experienced Joliet drug crimes defense attorney . At the Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba, we will work hard to protect your rights and to provide the responsible -representation you deserve. Call 815-740-4025 for a free consultation today.

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