Blogs | Law Office of Jack L Zaremba


Can You Appeal Your Criminal Conviction

Joliet Criminal Appeal

The ability to appeal a criminal conviction is a constitutionally protected right that is incredibly important to the integrity of our criminal justice system. There are various reasons you may want to appeal a criminal conviction, including:

• Ineffective assistance of counsel;
• Faulty evidentiary ruling by the court;
• Faulty jury instructions;
• Unfair or biased trial; or
• Excessive sentencing.

Appealing a criminal conviction does not automatically mean that you are going to be granted a new trial. Filing an appeal is a complex process, it is important to work closely with an attorney who can provide guidance along the way. There are deadlines, rules, and arguments that apply specifically to the appeals process and any mistakes could undermine your chances for a successful appeal.

How Does the Appeals Process Work?

The appeals process starts at the time of the original trial. If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, you may end up fighting the case in court. During your criminal trial, the judge will likely make several rulings based on precedent, as well as statutory law. The judge may rule on evidence, on what specific jury instructions the jury will receive, as well as about which laws apply to your specific case. Almost any ruling by the court could be subject to appeal in the future.

At your trial, you may wonder why your attorney objects to things despite being continually overruled by the judge. This is your lawyer’s job; what he or she is doing is preserving the objection in the event that your case needs to be appealed. Certain appeals can only be made if an objection was made on the record during the initial criminal trial.

When you appeal your case to an appellate court, the appeals court will not retry the case. You appeal pursuant to a matter of law. What that means is the appellate court will not decide again whether the testimony of a witness was credible; rather, it will determine if the lower court erred in allowing the testimony in the first place. Another example would be appealing the admissibility of evidence. The appellate court will not analyze the evidence itself, but whether the court erred as a matter of law in allowing the evidence during your trial.

What Happens If I Win My Appeal?

Winning an appeal may mean several different things depending on the nature of your case. It could mean getting a new trial with directions from the appellate court on what is admissible. Winning an appeal may even mean that your conviction is set aside or that a key piece of evidence is thrown out. There are different ways a lawyer can “win” your appeal that depend on what exactly is being appealed from the initial trial.

Fourth Amendment Searches Can Be Based on Reasonable Mistakes of Law

Joliet illegal search

The U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in Heien v. North Carolina, which asked the Court to consider whether a mistake of law justifies a traffic stop and subsequent Fourth Amendment search and seizure. The Court held that it does, but only if the legal error is objectively reasonable.

The Facts of Heien

A North Carolina police officer stopped Heien for driving with a broken brake light. The officer asked Heien for permission to search the vehicle, and Heien agreed. The officer then discovered cocaine hidden in a duffle bag in the car, which led to Heien’s conviction for attempted drug trafficking. On appeal, the North Carolina appellate court found that state law only requires one working brake light. Thus, the court held that Heien did not violate the law by driving with one broken brake light, and that the officer’s mistake of law did not permit the stop.

The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision, ruling that the officer’s mistake was reasonable and therefore did not violate the Fourth Amendment guarantee against “unreasonable” searches and seizures. Heien appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the North Carolina court’s decision.

Reasonable Mistakes of Law

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 8-1 ruling that a reasonable mistake of law justifies a Fourth Amendment search is in line with its prior ruling that a constitutional search may be based on a reasonable mistake of fact. However, the Court stressed the mistake of law reasonableness standard is not very “forgiving.” An officer cannot justify a legal error made on his own subjective understanding of the law. Rather, the mistake must be objectively reasonable. In other words, the statute must be “genuinely ambiguous” and difficult to interpret.

The lone dissenter, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, argued that a “fixed legal yardstick” would be preferable to the Court’s “reasonable” mistake of law standard.

A Private Citizen’s Mistake of Law

It is important to distinguish between a police officer’s mistake of law and a private citizen’s mistake of law. Generally, ignorance is not a valid defense for criminal offenders. If you have been charged with a crime, you will not be acquitted by claiming that you did not know your actions were criminal (although there are very limited exceptions to this rule; see Lambert v. California). Similarly, if a police officer breaks the law, he may not use ignorance of the law to excuse his criminal actions. The difference lies in upholding the law versus breaking the law. Heien allows police officers to perform Fourth Amendment searches and seizures based on their objectively reasonable mistakes of law.

Contact Us Today

Contact our Will County criminal defense attorneys today if your constitutional rights have been violated during the course of a traffic stop or during any search and seizure. We can assist those in Frankfort, Joliet and the surrounding area.

Potential Pitfalls of Concealed Carry in Illinois

Joliet Conceal Carry Lawyer

Generally speaking, if a person possesses an Illinois Firearm Owner’s Identification Card (FOID), he or she may own a firearm, as long as it complies with all other relevant Illinois laws. If that person also holds a valid concealed carry permit, he or she may then carry their weapon in that manner. However, many gun owners make the error of believing that they may carry their weapon anywhere and with very little restriction. This is emphatically not the case, and in fact, bringing a firearm into a location where firearms are banned—either carried openly or concealed—can result in weapons charges that carry serious penalties. Gun owners should be aware of their rights and how far they extend.

Concealed Carry Vs. Total Ban

It is not uncommon for a person to believe that when a certain location professes to ban firearms, they merely mean open carry. In reality, if a private business or public entity decides to prohibit guns and other firearms, this also applies to concealed carry license holders unless it specifically excludes concealed carry from the ban. Most private-sector bans do not, however, apply to weapons that are broken down or otherwise in a non-functional state, such as when they are being transported in an appropriate and legal manner.

Illinois law does, however, detail certain locations where firearms are statutorily prohibited, even if they are concealed and the owner holds the appropriate permit or if the firearm is non-functional. The list includes, among many others, courthouses, schools, medical facilities, and public transportation or system stations. One might assume that if they concealed carry, they may not be discovered as possessing a firearm, but the price for risking exposure can be prohibitive. In short, a concealed carry permit is not a license to carry a firearm anywhere one pleases, and too many take it as such.

Potential Consequences

While most people are familiar with the potential consequences associated with the unlawful use of a weapon, many are shocked to discover there may be serious penalties incurred for mere carrying. Possession of a firearm in any of the zones where they have been banned is usually charged as a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense, and if there is a second, it may then be charged as a Class 3 felony, which carries a maximum of 5 years in prison. Possessing a specific type of firearm, such as a machine gun or a sawed-off shotgun, may carry more time, depending on the specific nature of the offense.

One rather unique law that Illinois strictly observes is that if a person is in possession of any kind of firearm while robed, masked or are otherwise wearing any item that could conceal his or her their identity, he or she may be charged with a Class 4 felony. The rationale for such a law is to remove one layer of protection from those who would seek to commit armed crimes, though it has also been used as an effective tool in prosecutions which might qualify as hate crimes. For example, groups like the Ku Klux Klan historically donned hoods to mask their identity, and this law can provide an avenue for prosecution against a person who might otherwise escape justice.

Ask an Experienced Weapons Law Attorney

While gun ownership is a right that Illinois residents enjoy, it does not come without restrictions or responsibilities. If you have questions about your right to concealed carry or about firearm possession in general, contact and experienced Joliet weapons law attorney for answers. Call 815-740-4025 for a free consultation at the Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba today.


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