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Justice Department Takes Issue With “Profit-Minded” Court Systems

Joliet Court SystemThe statutes that govern the criminal justice and court systems in Illinois are full of references to fines, penalties, and financial sanctions to which an individual may be subject in certain situations. These monetary obligations could be the result of a simple traffic violation, a conviction on DUI charges or other crime, or simply as fees for taking a matter into court. There has been growing concern that lower-income individuals and families experience much greater difficulty in the pursuit of justice than those who can afford such costs. This week, the federal government has officially acknowledged the problem and has issued warnings to local municipalities and courts around the country.

A Growing Problem

The United States Department of Justice—commonly called the Justice Department—has issued a letter to chief judges and legal administrators in all 50 states asking them to be aware of the fines and fees that poor defendants are being required to pay. The letter expresses concern that many courts are using such practices to raise revenue, rather than for their intended purposes of ensuring public safety. Incarcerating individuals for failure to pay is also troubling to federal officials, according to reports, and is often counterproductive. In addition to mountains of debt for those who can least afford it, the letter takes issue with trapping people in “cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape.

Uncommon Action

While the letter contains no overt threats and lists no specific consequences, the correspondence itself is rather unusual. The Justice Department last issued such a letter in 2010, when it addressed the courtroom rights of non-English speakers regarding translators. Following that letter, the Justice Department opened formal investigations into the court practices of Colorado and North Carolina. The precedent leads many to believe that the federal government may be inclined to take action if nothing is done to rectify the problem.

Indigent or Willful?

Justice Department officials are not claiming that all fees and financial penalties are problematic. Rather, the concerns are more nuanced than that. Federal officials are asking courts to be aware of the fees and fines being imposed and the reasons behind them. In addition, courts should not rush to incarcerate an individual for nonpayment without first determining if the nonpayment was due to disregard for the order or a true inability to pay. The Justice Department is encouraging local judges to find more reasonable alternatives to incarceration for indigent defendants and to develop bail practices that unfairly impact the poor.

Legal Help for Your Unique Circumstances

If you are facing large fines or have been ordered to pay certain fees related to a criminal proceeding, it is important that you fully understand your rights under the law. Contact an experienced Joliet criminal defense attorney today for a free, confidential consultation regarding your case. At the Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba, we know how complicated the legal system can be, and we are prepared to help you every step of the way. Call 815-740-4025 and put our knowledge and skill on your side.

Legalized Recreational and Medical Marijuana Impacting Mexican Cartels

Joliet Marijuana LawyerAs the legalized selling of medical marijuana in Illinois enters its fifth month, the program, along with many others like it around the country seems to be having an effect that infamous War on Drugs could not produce. According to reports from the United States Border Patrol and other sources, the increase in government-sanctioned marijuana being grown in the U.S. is starting to drive down prices and, in turn, profits of growers and drug cartels in Mexico.

Prices Being Slashed

As far back as late 2014, even before the Illinois pilot program got underway, small-time marijuana growers in Mexico were already discussing the drop in the value of their products. One grower indicated that in 2011 and 2012, a kilogram of marijuana could bring in $60 to $90 at wholesale prices. “But now they’re paying us $30 to $40 a kilo,” he said. “It’s a big difference.” Growers in Mexico—many of whom struggle to maintain a very modest lifestyle, unlike the Hollywood image of a drug trafficker—expressed concern that legalization in the U.S., either for medical and recreational purposes, would ultimately make their production unsustainable.

Border Patrol Seizures

In 2009, the U.S. Border Patrol reported the seizure of almost 4 million pounds of illegal marijuana along the U.S.-Mexico border. Since then, annual seizures have dropped significantly, down to just over 1.5 million pounds in 2015—the lowest number in at least a decade. Other federal agencies have even acknowledged that the direction of marijuana smuggling is showing signs of reversing, with greater amounts of higher-quality American-grown marijuana finding its way into Mexico.

Not All Legal Production

Although the legal use of marijuana is becoming more popular around the country, there is still concern over the continued illicit growth in the United States. California, for example, is that nation’s leading state for the production of sanctioned medical marijuana, but is also responsible for more than 60 percent of all illegal marijuana plants seized in the country. With the development of a robust medical marijuana market comes the probability that illicit production is increasing as well, so as to meet the demand of non-medical users who do not live in a state where recreational use is permitted.

Such is the case for residents of Illinois. Even as the state’s medical marijuana program continues to grow, those who are not registered participants could find themselves in big trouble for the possession or use of the drug. If you are facing charges of marijuana possession or any other related offense, contact an experienced Joliet criminal defense attorney. We will review your case, including the details of your arrest and the evidence against, and will work with you to build a responsible, effective defense. Call 815-740-4025 to schedule your free initial consultation today at the Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba.

Heroin Epidemic Continues to Plague Illinois

Joliet heroin attorneyAccording to the most recent numbers from the federal government, fatal drug overdoses hit an all-time high in 2014, claiming the lives of more than 47,000 Americans. The number is even more staggering when you consider how much time, energy, and money has been spent on awareness campaigns and addiction treatment over the last several decades. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to release the numbers for 2015, but few are expecting a significant decrease, meaning that tens of thousands more died due to drug overdose last year. As Illinois continues to compile its statistics for 2015, there is growing concern over the resurgence of serious heroin problem, much of it centered around the greater Chicago area.

Provisional Numbers

In 2014, there were approximately 1,700 drug overdose deaths reported in the state of Illinois. Of that number, about 42 percent, or 711, were related to heroin. Reports released earlier this month place the number of heroin-related overdose fatalities in the state at 692, with many investigations still ongoing and causes of death still to be determined. This seems to be in keeping with a terrible nationwide trend which has seen deaths related to heroin use triple in just the last four years. Government officials cite the drug’s increased availability and relative affordability as the primary factors contributing to the marked uptick in its use and abuse.

Localized Concerns

The Illinois Department of Public Health reports that nearly half of all deaths involving heroin use in Illinois are occurring in a single county. In 2014, there were 321 heroin-related fatalities in Cook County alone, and thus far, another 283 have already been reported for 2015. The problem extends into the Chicago suburbs as well, with Will County reporting more 56 deaths in 2015, up from 37 in 2014.

There is also a great deal of trepidation over the impact that the ongoing state budget impasse will have in 2016. Many outreach programs and addiction support resources have been forced to reduce services or shut down altogether due to a lack of state funding. This is leading many to believe that the lack of available programs could lead to even larger numbers of fatalities this year.

Heroin-Related Legal Problems?

In addition to the physical dangers that the drug presents, heroin possession is also an extremely serious criminal allegation. A conviction could follow you for the rest of your life and severely limit your future opportunities. If you have been charged any type of heroin-related offense, contact an experienced Will County criminal defense attorney right away. Call 815-740-4025 to schedule a free consultation at the Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba today.

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