This is a story from my time in Chicago representing felony defendants. This is a perfect example of how an innocent person can end up in the county jail facing a felony charge.
A young woman began to have problems with her boyfriend. The relationship was turning abusive. The boyfriend was calling her job all day long. He would even come and stand outside of her work at times. It was a major disruption at her place of employment.
A couple of months later she had had enough. She moved out. Friends from work helped her move. A short time later the boyfriend moved in with her. Again. And a short time after that, the fighting started. Again.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and she was moving out. Again. The boyfriend, however, was causing problems and wouldn’t let her get packed. She called a coworker named Mike several times that day. She needed help. Again.
Mike was a pretty smart guy. He could smell trouble a mile away. Mike was one among the few friends from work who had helped her move just two weeks prior. Mike knew about the problems this woman had. Mike was a little upset she took the boyfriend back. He now wanted nothing to do with it.
She eventually got Mike on the phone. Mike didn’t want to get in the middle of what was going on. He was in his late 50s and far from foolish. But she explained to Mike that the cops were already at her house, so there would be no trouble. She just wanted to load a few things in his van and leave. Mike agreed.
Mike drove to her house. He saw the cops when he pulled up. He also saw the abusive boyfriend on the other side of the street. The woman yelled to Mike from the upstairs window. The cops realized he was the person that had come to help the woman move her things.
Mike stood outside talking to the cops. He never went inside the house. He never helped the woman put anything in his van. But he saw that she was loading small boxes and plastic bags. Mike told the cops about this couple’s problems. The cops knew all about it; they had been at this house before.
The boyfriend was across the street, but near the van. Mike noticed he was writing on a piece of paper, but thought nothing of it.
After about 10 minutes the woman says she’s ready. Mike said bye to the cops. They got in his van and drove away. Mike took the next right turn. About 5 minutes later he saw police lights in his rear view mirror.
He pulled the van over. Immediately cops, with guns drawn, were yelling at him to get out of the car. He did so. The woman was also removed from the car. The van was searched.
Police officers found a small pistol and some crack-cocaine in a bag the woman had put in the van. Mike was immediately arrested and charged for possessing both. The woman was set free.
Mike, of course, denied knowing anything about the items found in the van. They must have been hers he tells police. He was booked anyway. The next morning he went to bond court. Though Mike had no felony or misdemeanor convictions, he was given a $50,000 D bond. It took three weeks for his family to put together the $5,000 to bail him out.
A couple of weeks after Mike made bail, and I was hired to represent him.
Through my investigation I quickly learned what had happened. When Mike saw the boyfriend writing on the piece of paper he didn’t think too much about it. He should have. The boyfriend was writing down the make and model of the van. But more importantly, he was noting the license plate number.
As soon as Mike and the young woman drove away, the boyfriend flagged down the next cop car he saw. He claimed a man and a woman in a van had just robbed him. And the man had a gun. He gave the cops the make, model, and license plate number of Mike’s van.
A call goes over the police radio and almost immediately Mike’s van was spotted and stopped. Sometime later that day, the cops figured out what happened. The boyfriend was arrested and charged with filing a false police report, a misdemeanor. He was let go from the police station. He had to post no bond.
Apparently none of the cops put two-and-two together (or didn’t care to) because Mike still got the felony case. The boyfriend went home. And the girlfriend was never arrested.
Mike was a Marine infantryman in Vietnam. He was honorably discharged at the rank of E-5 and earned a Purple Heart. Since then he had attended some college and trade school. He had worked here and there over years always earning an honest paycheck.
This silly case was in the court system for about one year. It went through three sets of prosecutors; none of whom would listen to me. They always assumed every defendant was guilty. They never really looked at a case until they were preparing it for trial. You can get really good deals on the day of trial when they know their case is a dog. I kept setting this case for trial only to have it reassigned.
I was so frustrated that I eventually wrote a letter to a supervisor in the State’s Attorney’s office who I knew to be sensible and honest. I had a history with him and never doubted his integrity, which was rare for me in those Chicago felony courtrooms where seemingly more lies were spoken than truths. On the next court date, the supervisor came himself and dismissed the case.