Blagojevich Oral Argument Set for December 13, 2013: Read Blagojevich’s Reply Brief

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Oral arguments for Rob Blagojevich have been set for December 13, 2013. Our office’s reply brief has been filed and can be accessed through the link below.

reply brief-Blagojevich

Len Goodman Appears on ‘Chicago Tonight’ to Discuss Blago Appeal

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Click the following link to view Mr. Goodman’s interview: Len Goodman appeared on WTTW’s television program, Chicago Tonight, to discuss Rod Blagojevich’s appeal.

Rod Blagojevich’s Appellate Brief

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On July 15, 2013, the Law Office of Leonard Goodman filed Blagojevich’s appeal. To read the brief, click here: appeal brief-Blago-final

Article: Drone Justice is Blind

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By Leonard Goodman. Published in “In These Times”, April 10, 2013.

There’s no way President Obama can fairly review each drone strike.

To whom did each targeted person pose a threat? Were they a threat to U.S. military bases or CIA installations located within their country? Were they a threat to corporate interests located within their country? Were they a threat to the regime that governs their country and allows us to fly the drones?

For the first time in history, the United States government has proclaimed its legal right to assassinate any person, anywhere on the globe, as long as our chief executive believes that person to be a terrorist. President Barack Obama has said that most of the people we are incinerating are “al-Qaeda suspects who are up in very tough terrain along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Precise numbers are hard to come by, due to the secrecy under which the drone program operates. But the various groups that track drone strikes agree that since Obama took office, more than 350 strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia have killed at least 2,400 people. This means, outside of Afghanistan, U.S. drones are killing on average at least 47 people a month. If you include drone strikes in Afghanistan, the numbers are much larger.

The administration’s claim as to the legality of these strikes relies on the fiction that a rigorous review of evidence takes place before a “terrorist” is targeted. However, no matter how smart and reasonable Obama might be, he is not personally reviewing the evidence against most of the people we are killing. In fact, according to CNN, at least half of drone strike deaths have been the result of “signature strikes,” in which drone operators decide, based on visual evidence of suspicious behavior, to fire on people whose identities they don’t even know. As one government official told the New York Times, to the CIA, “three guys doing jumping jacks” looks suspiciously like a terrorist training camp.

We are told that drone killings neutralize imminent threats to America, but we need only consider the numbers to know we are being lied to. There cannot be 50 people every month who were on the verge of launching an attack on the U.S. until they were “neutralized” by a drone. We therefore must ask: To whom did each targeted person pose a threat? Were they a threat to U.S. military bases or CIA installations located within their country? Were they a threat to corporate interests located within their country? Were they a threat to the regime that governs their country and allows us to fly the drones?

As new details emerge about the drone program in Pakistan, the administration’s official explanations begin to unravel. We now know, as Mark Mazzetti reported in the April 6 New York Times, that the first strike occurred in June 2004, when the United States used a Predator drone to assassinate Nek Muhammad, a Pashtun tribesman, at the request of Pakistan. The drone also killed two boys, ages 10 and 16. In return for this killing, Pakistan allowed the CIA to deploy Predator drones in its airspace.

And as reported by the McClatchy newspapers based on a review of classified intelligence reports, under President Obama, the drone program has continued to target and kill not just senior al-Qaeda leaders, but also “hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified ‘other’ militants in scores of strikes in Pakistan’s rugged tribal area.”

In the rare cases in which Obama does personally review evidence and approve a drone strike, he is hearing only one side of the story. Just as criminal suspects always seem guilty after a briefing by law enforcement, Muslim men living in remote and lawless regions of Pakistan or Yemen will always seem like terrorists to Obama after a CIA briefing. Moreover, much of the information used for drone targeting comes from informants, who are notoriously unreliable. For example, agent “Curveball” composed elaborate drawings of Saddam’s mobile weapons labs that existed only in Curveball’s head, but were nevertheless used to justify the Iraq War.

Our founding fathers valued an adversarial system of justice because they understood that government officials, even smart and well-meaning ones, are not always right.

Law enforcement agents and prosecutors might find it convenient never to have anyone oppose or even question their evidence, but the good ones also recognize the inherent danger of such an unbalanced system.

I recently defended a murder case in Charleston, Ill. If you spoke only to the prosecutors and detectives, you would have heard how three witnesses observed my client, Chris Oliver, kicking and stomping a developmentally disabled man to death, and you would have been easily convinced that Oliver is a killer.

But because Oliver had a defense lawyer and an investigator on his side, we were able to show the jury that two of the prosecution’s witnesses were severely mentally ill, had given numerous conflicting stories and had been pressured by the police to implicate Oliver, and that the third witness had himself been implicated in the beating and named Oliver only after cutting a deal with the state. We also introduced time sheets and cell phone records overlooked by the police, which showed that Oliver was not even present for the attack but was called to the scene after the beating to care for the victim. After hearing both sides of the story, the jury in Charleston quickly acquitted Oliver of murder.

Sadly, all we will ever know about the thousands of humans incinerated by our drones is that the CIA believed them to be terrorists.

View this article online at inthesetimes.com

Jury Acquits Oliver of Murder, Deadlocks on Neglect Offense

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Journal Gazette and Times Courier, February 1, 2013.

CHARLESTON — After hearing different stories about whether Christopher P. Oliver took part in the attack that killed Dustin Higgins, including one from Oliver himself, a jury decided he wasn’t guilty of murder.

But whether Oliver did enough as an employee of the group home where Higgins lived to keep him from being attacked and injured was a decision the jury couldn’t make.

After about 4½ hours of deliberation that ended late Friday, the jury acquitted Oliver of a first-degree murder charge. It deadlocked on a charge of criminal neglect of a disabled person, and whether Oliver will be retried on that charge could be known by next month.

Oliver, 29, was accused of a role in the death of Higgins, which came eight days after he was beaten on Aug. 24, 2008, at the Graywood Enterprises group home that was located at 1511 B. St., Charleston.

Some of the testimony the jury heard during the four-day trial came from Daniel Clark, who also worked at the home, and Robert Gardner and Edward Flexter, two of the home’s residents.

All were accused and convicted of roles in the attack and said they witnessed Oliver take part. However, each version differed in how the attack began and exactly what Oliver did.

Clark said the attack escalated from “horse play” involving Oliver and Higgins; Gardner said the beating was punishment for Higgins stealing food; and Flexter said it was because Higgins stole another resident’s money.

Oliver gave his account during his own testimony on Friday, saying he did see Higgins beaten, first by Gardner, but he didn’t think Higgins was seriously injured. He said he left the home but came back after Clark called and asked him to return, and he found Higgins in a far worse condition.

He and the others also all said a third Graywood employee, James Wynn, took part in the attack and, in earlier statements, Gardner and Flexter said he instigated it. Wynn wasn’t charged with a role in Higgins’ death but did admit lying to investigating police when he said he was away from the home with some of its residents at the time of the attack.

Also during his testimony Friday, Oliver said he followed Graywood procedure by calling a supervisor instead of immediately calling 911 for an ambulance.

“I don’t think there can be any dispute that there were two attacks on Dustin Higgins that night,” defense attorney Len Goodman said during his closing arguments to the jury. “There was another attack after Chris left.”

Prosecution team member Ed Parkinson said there was nothing to show Oliver’s claims of a second attack “except his own words.” Gardner’s and Flexter’s accounts did differ but, when they testified, both maintained that Oliver took part in the attack, he said.

“Do they have trouble remembering? Sure,” Parkinson said. “Just because they’re mentally challenged, you should not discount them and say they’re liars.”

Oliver also told the jury that, when he returned, he tried to revive Higgins, who was unresponsive.

He said he first notified the supervisor instead of calling an ambulance because he’d gotten in trouble for taking an injured resident to the hospital without authorization before. Parkinson attacked him on that point during his cross examination.

“You didn’t take him to the hospital because you thought you might get in trouble for not following those stupid rules?” Parkinson asked.

“I’m following my orders,” Oliver replied. He added that he regretted the decision and said he “never would have left if Dustin Higgins was not OK” after the earlier fight he said he witnessed.

After the jury’s decisions, Circuit Judge James Glenn scheduled a hearing for March 15 to check the status of the remaining neglect charge. State’s Attorney Brian Bower, who didn’t take part in the trial but was in the courtroom when it concluded, said his office will decide before the hearing whether to retry Oliver on the neglect charge.

Had Oliver been convicted of the murder charge, a prison sentence of at least 20 years would have been required. The prosecution also alleged that the attack on Higgins came to “exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior,” which would have meant that Oliver could have received more than the normal 60-year maximum.

Allegations in the neglect offense that Higgins’ death resulted meant that offense could bring a three- to 14-year prison term, though prison time wouldn’t be required.

Higgins’ death was followed by that of another Graywood client at different one of the company’s Charleston facilities in January 2011. Two employees were convicted of crimes in connection with that death, and it led to Graywood closing its facilities for the developmentally disabled.

For a link to the article, please click here.

Goodman Law Update: Jury Acquits on First Degree Murder, Hung on Criminal Neglect

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Our client, Chris Oliver, was a college student at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, IL, working part-time as a staff person at a group home for young men with severe mental illness, earning $8 an hour. Some of the residents of this home had long histories of violent and antisocial behavior. Chris had worked at the home for 2 years and the trial testimony established that he actually cared about the residents and was patient and professional in dealing with their behaviors.

On August 24, 2008, a resident of the home was severely beaten after Chris had clocked out for the day. The other staff members, who allowed the beating to take place, called Chris on his cell phone and asked him to come back and deal with the gravely wounded young resident. The Charleston, IL police department showed up 2 hours after the 911 call. The lead detective looked at Chris, who is 6-5 and black, and decided he was guilty. The detective then pressured these mentally ill young men to say they saw Chris beating and stomping the victim. Recorded interrogations show that every time the residents strayed from the story that Chris did it, they were firmly brought back around. It came out at trial that following the initial police interviews with the residents, the former lead detective told the executive director for the Graywood foundation, the company that ran the group home, that “we will not be able to put the boys on the stand because I was able to manipulate their statements 3 different ways last night.”

A critical piece of evidence was the surveillance footage from the corner store which showed that a staff member gave a false alibi and also would have confirmed Chris’s account of the time he got back to the house. The assistant state’s attorney elicited false testimony from the detective that the store did not have the equipment to preserve that surveillance tape and thus it is unavailable. We later called the store manager who testified that absolutely, they could have preserved the surveillance tape if the request had come within 35 days. Just pop in a disk, put in the dates, hit record.

The Coles County States Attorney pushed the case against Chris to the limit, charging him with a “brutal and heinous” murder, which would have given him a life sentence, and with a separate charge of criminal neglect of a disabled person.

At the trial which began January 29, the State relied on the testimony of 2 of the mentally ill residents of the group home and one of the on-shift staff members. All 3 of these witnesses were given plea deals which required them to testify against Chris. Prior to trial, both of the mentally ill residents gave statements on videotape admitting that Chris was not involved. But the detective immediately re-interviewed them, reminded them of their obligation to help the prosecution and of their earlier statement that they saw Chris beating the victim, and got them to flip back. One of these men shook the prosecutor’s hand as he got off the stand. The other young man named, who was off his meds, admitted he would lie for anyone.

Chris was acquitted on the murder charge. The jury hung on the second charge which was criminal neglect of a disabled person. But we are praying that the state’s attorney’s office will do the right thing and dismiss that charge. The basis for this neglect charge is that Chris followed company policy which was to call his supervisor and the nurse before calling “911.” The evidence showed that while Chris was trying his best to care for the injured victim, another staff person named, who was on shift (unlike Chris), was playing basketball. The evidence also revealed that this staff member originally gave the police a false alibi. Yet, this staff member was never charged in connection with the beating death of the resident in his charge. He was charged with misdemeanor obstruction of justice for lying to the police. He received a sentence of supervision.

Jury Acquits Oliver of Murder, Deadlocks on Neglect Offense. February 1, 2013. Journal Gazette and Times Courier.

Chicago Police Corruption; 2013 Report Released

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Chicago police corruption has started to make headlines once again, and not just locally. CBS aired the department’s dirty laundry on its nationally televised program, 60 Minutes, in December 2012. Chicago: The false confession capital. The numbers are staggering: 300 Chicago police officers have been convicted of crimes since 1960, one-third of those convictions occurred after 2000.

A recent report released by researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago highlights the corruption and provides sometimes frightening insight into the ongoing battle to cleanse our city of police misconduct. The corruption puts the wellbeing of Chicago’s citizens in jeopardy, along with the integrity of our political and judicial systems. The Chicago Police also have taxpayers paying dearly for their misconduct…to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

Check out “Crime, Corruption and Cover-ups in the Chicago Police Department.”

Who Would You Believe: the Criminal in the Orange Jumpsuit or the Well-Groomed Police Officers Who Just Swore To God To Tell The Truth?

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On Sunday, February 2, the New York Times published an article written by Michelle Alexander entitled, “Why Police Lie Under Oath”.

Alexander highlights the incentives police officers have to lie, namely in drug cases. Drug cases are especially susceptible to police misconduct because many of them rely so heavily on the legality of the initial stop and arrest. In order to legally stop, search, and arrest a suspect, police officers must have probable cause and in some cases, a “reasonable suspicion” may be enough. Without a warrant providing the officer with firm authority to seize or search an individual (or their residence, car, etc), police rely on their own perceptions and suspicions.

More often than not, it is a police officer’s word against a defendant’s when it comes down to pre-trial hearings and trials. This is not only true in drug cases but is also common in many types of criminal cases and investigations. Police officers have an incentive to find the perpetrator…and fast. In the past, this mentality has led to a number of men and women being falsely accused of crimes they did not commit, often spending years of their lives in prison. (For more information on the Chicago Police Department’s history of abuses and lies, see the report recently released by 60 minutes). Why? Because who would you believe? The criminal in the orange jumpsuit or the nice-looking officers swearing to tell the whole truth, and nothing but?

As criminal defense attorneys, we must be prepared to defend against false testimony by police officers. To do so, we believe it is imperative to conduct a full investigation of the police and investigative work done on each case brought to our office. Defense investigations done properly often reveal important facts and/or clues not listed in the police reports or investigation narratives as originally provided. These missing facts may help in proving a client’s innocence or in some cases, the motives behind an officer’s lies.

Michelle Alexander is the author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

Felony Offender Program Gives First Time Offenders Opportunity to Avoid Conviction

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A new Illinois law, effective January 1, 2013, gives first time felony offenders a chance to defer prosecution and avoid conviction. Eligible felonies include theft, retail theft, forgery, possession of a stolen motor vehicle, burglary, and possession of burglary tools. Eligible felony drug charges include possession (not delivery) of marijuana, controlled substances, and methamphetamine. Defendants charged with a violent offense are not eligible.

The prosecution must agree to waive prosecution and allow the offender admission to the program. Felony offenders chosen for the program will complete an intensive, alternative prosecution program that lasts 12 months. The conditions of the program are as follows:

– Defendant cannot violate any criminal statute;
– cannot possess a firearm or dangerous weapon;
– must make full restitution to victim or property owner;
– obtain employment or perform not less than 30 hours of eligible community service; and
– attend educational courses designed to prepare the defendant for obtaining a high school diploma, work toward passing the high school level test of General Educational Development (G.E.D.), or to work toward completing a vocational education program.

The statute can be found at 720 ILCS 5/5-6-3.3.

This new law is an important step in granting defendants an opportunity to start over with a clean record. For questions regarding eligibility, contact our office.

Lawyer defends giving suspect phone in interrogation room

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November 28, 2012|By Jason Meisner | Tribune reporter

A lawyer on trial on charges she let a suspect in the slaying of a Chicago police officer use her cell phone in an interrogation room testified today she had no intention of obstructing the investigation and didn’t know it was against the law to bring the phone with her.

Taking the stand in her own defense, Sladjana Vuckovic, who at the time was volunteering for a 24-hour free legal service for indigent suspects, said she had made at least 100 client visits at police stations and had never been told cell phones were prohibited.

Vuckovic, who is on trial on a felony count of bringing contraband into a penal institution, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted and would likely be disbarred from practicing law.

Vuckovic, 44, testified she was vaguely aware of a state law prohibiting bringing contraband into a penal institution but thought it prohibited “knives, guns, drugs.”

Vuckovic told jurors she went to the Calumet Area headquarters in November 2010 to meet with Timothy Herring after a relative of his had contacted the legal hotline about his arrest. Herring was undergoing questioning by detectives in the slayings of Officer Michael Flisk and another man.

Vuckovic said she was there to provide a crucial service to Herring – to make sure he understood he had a constitutional right to have an attorney present during questioning and to refuse to cooperate with investigators if he so chose.

Vuckovic said that while she was alone in the locked interrogation room with Herring, she allowed him to use her phone to talk to relatives but warned him it “was not the time” to discuss anything about the investigation.

“I told him, ‘Call your family and friends, let them know you’re OK, but do not talk about the case,’” Vuckovic testified. “’We have to just sit tight for 48 hours and see if they charge you or let you go.’”

Prosecutors alleged that a total of 26 calls were made from or received by Vuckovic’s cellphone during two meetings with Herring, including incoming calls from a number that was blocked.

On Tuesday, a police lieutenant in charge of the investigation testified he would never have allowed Herring to make unmonitored calls because “he could compromise the entire investigation.”

Vuckovic’s attorney, Leonard Goodman, told jurors no signs were posted at the headquarters prohibiting cellphones in the interrogation room.

The charges sparked controversy among criminal-defense lawyers who said they routinely bring their cellphones into police interview rooms and sometimes let clients make calls. Some veteran attorneys said they could not remember a similar case ever being pursued by police.

The general orders of the Chicago Police Department allow a suspect to make “a reasonable amount” of phone calls to family and an attorney while they are under arrest. When Vuckovic was asked if Chicago police followed those orders, she answered “No, they don’t comply,” as prosecutors loudly objected.

Later, Vuckovic testified it was her understanding that Herring “would not get to make a phone call until after he was charged.”

 

 

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