Selecting the Right Jury

If your criminal case goes to trial, selecting the right jury is important to ensure that you are given a fair trial.  Besides being randomly selected from voter and driver’s license information, potential jurors are further interviewed before becoming members of your jury.

Photo by: Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig

Photo by: Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig

Voir Dire A.K.A. Jury Profiling

Do you know the defendant, attorneys, or witnesses?  Have you, a family member, or a close friend been involved in a similar case?  Jurors are initially asked questions like these to determine if they could be biased to one side or the other.  Following those inqueries is a questionnaire that will be answer by each member of the jury.  Questions regarding things as personal as hobbies, employment, & family status are asked to give attorneys an in-depth view of how the juror may be swayed in the case.

Strrrrike!

Succeeding the questionnaire, attorneys will often have follow up questions for the jurors to help them with selecting the right jury for their side.  Then, each attorney is allowed to strike out a designated number of potential jurors who they feel would not be well suited for the case.  Each attorney can strike out as few as 3 jurors in a civil or misdemeanor case to as many as 20 for a death penalty case.  This is when your criminal defense attorney can nearly hand pick those jurors that will give you a fair trial.  Additionally, if your attorney feels that a remaining juror would not be unbiased in the case, they can attempt to challenge that juror as well.

An Impartial Jury

Any individual facing criminal charges deserves a fair, unprejudiced trial.  This can be accomplished by selecting the right jury.  An experienced criminal defense attorney will know the questions to ask and what to look for in potential jurors to give you a better chance of having your case tried justly.

Post Bail or Wait in Jail?

When you’ve been arrested and booked for a crime, you will often have the choice to post bail or wait in jail for your first court appearance.  There are pros and cons to each option and what is best for one person may not be for another.  It is important to discuss with your attorney whether or not posting bail is right for you.

Photo by: Sarah Nichols

Photo by: Sarah Nichols

Financial Cost of Posting Bail

One way to post bail is to take all that extra money you have lying around and pay cash for the full bail amount.  As long as you attend all your court dates, you should get your money refunded to you at the end.  If you do not have money or assets enough to cover your bail amount, you can use a bail bond agency.  This service will cost you a fee of 10% the amount of the bail and may be reduced to 8% if you have an attorney.  This fee is much less than paying the full amount of the bail, but the agency’s fee will never be returned to you.  No matter how you decide to do it, posting bail is going to cost you.  You have to decide if you can afford it and if it is worth it for a few extra days of freedom.  Keep in mind also that bail amounts can change with your first hearing.  If you have used a bail bond agency and your bail amount rises, you will be returned to jail until you can pay the new amount.

Comforts of Home

Jail is not comfortable.  If this is your first stint, you will likely find the accommodations at your county jail to be rougher and more frightening than a cheap motel in a bad neighborhood. If you are tired, malnourished, and sporting stripes, you will not appear or feel professional when being presented before a judge. Having the time in the comfort of your own home can give you opportunity to freshen up and look presentable during your hearing.  Oftentimes speaking to a judge at your arraignment hearing can get you out of jail temporarily on your own recognizance.  If you are a repeat offender and familiar with this option, you may decide to grin and bear it, waiting in jail to save you and your family the cost of posting bail.  Most arraignment hearings are just a few days after the booking date, so your time spent in jail may be short lived anyway.

Other obligations

A high percentage of people who are booked into jail have other obligations awaiting them at work or home. Although the time spent in jail before arraignment is usually short, employers and family members may not appreciate you being out of reach during that time. If you post bail, within hours you are able to carry on with your life while you await your first hearing. This gives you opportunity to inform your employer of your circumstances, arrange care for your family members if needed, and speak in depth with your attorney to prepare for your hearing.

Buying Time

Prosecuting attorneys will usually try to move cases along quickly if someone is incarcerated. Many jails are overcrowded and keeping someone in longer than needed can cost tax papers unnecessary funds. With this is mind, if you post bail your case may creep along slower, giving your attorney adequate time to cement a defense and allow time for witnesses for the prosecution to fall out of contact. While this waiting game can be mentally difficult, it might help your case in the long run. Ask your attorney if posting bail might work in your favor.

Legal Counsel

Before you decide to post bail or wait in jail, contact a criminal defense attorney. Having legal counsel there to help you with the decision to post bail or wait in jail can save you funds, give you guidance, and restore your peace of mind.

Jail Overcrowding in Illinois Eased via Controversial Measures

Easing Jail Overcrowding

Photo: Monique/Wikimedia Commons

At a time when Utah is facing prison overcrowding issues, matched with a facility at Point of the Mountain in Draper that is considered incapable of supporting the growing prison population, Cook County in Illinois is proposing and enhancing several measures which seek to reduce not only their own jail overcrowding issues but also perceived problems in the state’s criminal justice system in general.

Most of these measures put Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart firmly in the spotlight, either supporting such issues as a “rocket docket” for low-level cases, or expressing concerns over increases in defendants being released into electronic monitoring.

Easing Jail Overcrowding the Sheriff’s Way

According to articles in both the ABA Journal and Chicago Tribune, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is critical of the very criminal justice system he helps to administer. In his most recent actions, Dart has implemented some changes and proposed others in an effort to ease jail overcrowding in his county.

The first area Dart wants to address is the length of jail stays—perhaps more importantly, the cost of those stays—for detainees being held on minor offenses. In a press conference on Tuesday, March 10, Dart said the system is “not set up to care” about these detainees who may sometimes wait for months for their case to be resolved.

Using an example of a man who spent 114 days in jail for allegedly stealing a pack of candy bars, a stay which cost taxpayers more than $16,000, Dart criticized “the outrageous amounts of money we spend incarcerating the wrong people.” He said the system leads to not only jail overcrowding but also “unjust incarceration.”

Addressing the latter part of the statement, Dart—who has referred to the Cook County Jail as the largest mental health facility in the country—is proposing a diversion program for mentally ill defendants, but the outcome of that proposal remains to be seen.

In order to address the overly lengthy and costly stays, starting the week of March 16th and continuing every week thereafter, Dart said county officials will identify five-to-ten cases where they believe people should not still be held in jail, and then work with county prosecutors and public defenders in an attempt to fast track those particular cases.

Along the lines of fast tracking, Dart is also proposing legislation for a “rocket docket” which would give the county 30 days to work out cases of retail theft and criminal trespassing before the defendants would be released on recognizance bonds or electronic monitoring. Dart said he believes that if successful, this could potentially be applied to low-level drug offenses as well.

When Easing Jail Overcrowding Increases Stress

The issue of electronic monitoring is an issue that is more of a concern to Dart, seeing as those defendants are under his office’s responsibility. Even though Dart has pushed for releasing more nonviolent offenders on electronic monitoring and instituted a program in 2013 which would intensely monitor “high priority defendants”—to include three daily unannounced visits from sheriff’s deputies—the 70 percent increase of defendants put on electronic monitoring last year by Cook County judges has the Cook County Sheriff’s Office scrambling to keep up.

With electronic monitoring, a defendant wears an ankle or wrist bracelets which sends radio signals to a cellular tower to assure the defendant is staying within the confines of their release (which may include places of employment). While electronic monitoring has been shown an effective tool for easing jail overcrowding and allowing defendants to continue working and supporting their families, it also raises several concerns. One issue is judges worrying that they are releasing the wrong defendants back into the public simply to go on to commit another crime spree.

This issue came to a head in Cook County when Chief Judge Timothy Evans stated that a long-standing federal court order directed Dart as the sheriff to decide who would be released onto electronic monitoring. Dart maintained that judges would know better if a defendant might be dangerous or a flight risk.

Evans also said the sheriff’s office wasn’t releasing everyone who had been ordered onto electronic monitoring. However, Dart stated that just because a defendant is ordered onto electronic monitoring doesn’t mean they will be released. Certain circumstances—such as a defendant being homeless or not being able to raise the money necessary for their bond—may lead to those defendants remaining in jail.

Perhaps in response to this dispute and Dart’s other pushes for easing jail overcrowding, Cook County judges ordered 14,717 male and female defendants awaiting trail onto electronic monitoring, as opposed to 8,657 in 2013. The sheriff’s office reported that the jail population dropped from 10,388 in February of 2013 to 8,427 at the beginning of March of this year, reflecting a trend that is the opposite of many other places in the country, including Utah.

However, Dart is concerned that it seems judges are releasing considerably more defendants to electronic monitoring who are potentially dangerous. Many of these defendants would fall under the Cook County Sheriff’s Office “high priority” category, which would mean increased supervision and responsibilities to Dart and his deputies.

While one such high-profile defendant—a former suburban deputy fire chief charged with attempted murder among several other crimes—had originally complained about the intense supervision, claiming it bordered on harassment, he has since come around to accepting the situation as a condition of his release.

“It sure beats being in jail,” he said.