Category Archives: DUI Defense

Chief Justice Announces Additional Funding for Probation Services Granted by Governor

Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas R. Fitzgerald announced Friday that Gov. Pat Quinn has restored $20 million to the Supreme Court’s current budget to help fund probation services throughout the state.

The governor responded to an appeal by the Chief Justice for the second year in a row to add funds for probationary services to remain a viable component of public safety.

For Fiscal Year 2011, the legislature appropriated $36.4 million to the Supreme Court for grants and awards, including probation services. That is the same amount it appropriated last year, and less than half of what had been appropriated for probation services in 2002. Last year, the governor restored $16 million after an appeal by Chief Justice Fitzgerald and conversations between the governor’s office and the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, headed by Director Cynthia Y. Cobbs.

In a letter to the governor last month asking to increase funds under the governor’s statutory budget authority, the Chief Justice noted that even with the additional funds last year 90 probation officer jobs throughout the state were eliminated because of a shortfall of funding.

“I am compelled to once again write, with an even more heightened sense of urgency and concern for probation’s continued viability and capacity to promote public safety,” the Chief Justice said in a letter to the governor dated July 7, 2010. “Absent an additional allocation of funds in Fiscal Year 2011, there will be a compounded and an accelerated deterioration in probation services. This predictable sequence will begin with a loss of probation officer jobs and the attendant increase in caseload size, reductions in both frequency and quality of offender supervision, and heightened threats to public safety.”

Two days after the Chief Justice’s correspondence, the Governor directed Comptroller Daniel Hynes to delegate an additional $20 million for use by the Supreme Court to fund probation reimbursements.

Governor Restores Additional Funding for Probation Add One

“This is the second year in a row that the Governor has graciously responded to the Supreme Court’s requests that fiscal resources for probation services be increased beyond what the legislature has initially appropriated,” said Chief Justice Fitzgerald. “I, the Court and the hundreds of persons who make probation services work in this state are very grateful.

“As I have said in my comments earlier this year before the Appropriation Committees of both houses of the legislature, probation services are a vital component of public safety. The Supreme Court has a firm belief in the value of probation services and an unwavering commitment to sustain its availability as a practical sentencing alternative in the State of Illinois.

“Though far short of the 100 percent statutory mandate to reimburse counties for probation expenditures, these additional dollars will raise funding to a level which will avoid further erosion of probation’s critical public safety mission.”

If the statutory full amount of reimbursement to the counties for probation services were appropriated, it would be as much as $95 million.

“We are grateful to the Governor for the increased allocation of funds for probation services,” said Director Cobbs. “The Supreme Court and the Administrative Office will continue our fiscal stewardship of the additional funds to ensure probation services in Illinois are targeted to promote improved public safety.”

In 2009, Illinois probation officers supervised more than 97,000 adults and nearly 15,000 juveniles. They also conducted more than 37,900 bond and pre-sentence investigations and staffed 16 juvenile detention centers with an average daily population of almost 500 youths.

Prosecutors want Supreme Court to halt handover of jail recordings in fatal DUI

Will County State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow is asking the Illinois Supreme Court to undo a judge’s order to deliver hundreds of jailhouse recordings to the attorney of a Steger man who was convicted of killing a 5-year-old boy in a drunken driving crash last year.

Judge Edward Burmila decided last month those tapes should have been given to 24-year-old Cecil Conner and his attorney, Jeff Tomczak, ahead of Conner’s trial. Tomczak has said he is particularly interested in recorded conversations between Conner and the boy’s mother, Kathie LaFond.

In their motion, though, prosecutors said Burmila erred when he said they had “possession and control” of the recordings made by the Will County sheriff. Though Burmila decided the sheriff is an agent of the state’s attorney, prosecutors said they don’t have access to the jail or its files without the sheriff’s permission.

Jailhouse recordings have been turned over as evidence in other criminal cases. For example, Drew Peterson attorney Joel Brodsky said hundreds of recorded conversations were turned over after his client was charged with murder in Will County.

“The state’s attorney obviously had no problem getting a hold of Drew’s records,” Brodsky said.

But Conner’s prosecutors have said neither they nor the lead detective investigating his case listened to his recordings. They said Conner’s phone calls were only accessed two times — after his trial — when they were picked at random for a Will County sheriff’s deputy’s training session.

They also said Burmila’s ruling is unworkable, because Will County inmates place about 1,200 calls a day. Other counties are just as problematic, they said.

According to affidavits filed with the motion, Cook County inmates make about 40,000 calls each day, and McHenry County inmates make more than 500 a day. Kane County inmates placed 943 calls one day this month, and DuPage County inmates made 108,000 calls between Sept. 18 and Oct. 18.

Conner made 2,350 phone calls between May 10, 2010, and June 1, 2011, a jail official testified, but Burmila only ordered prosecutors to hand over tapes from May 10, 2010 until February 2011.

A jury convicted Conner in February for aggravated driving under the influence. LaFond was driving Conner home from a party in May 2010 with her 5-year-old son, Michael Langford Jr., in the back seat when a Chicago Heights police officer stopped the car. He arrested LaFond for driving with a suspended license and let Conner drive away.

The officer said Conner didn’t appear drunk, but Conner’s attorneys have said the officer threatened to arrest him if he didn’t drive the car home. A blood test later found Conner’s blood-alcohol level was 0.208, roughly 2-1/2 times the legal limit.

Shortly after the traffic stop, Conner drove the car into a tree on Steger Road near Carpenter street, killing the boy.

Burmila stayed his ruling until Monday, when Conner is expected to be back in court. Tomczak said he was surprised by the motion, and he said he’ll research whether prosecutors have a right to file it.

“We may well be wasting a significant amount of tax dollars,” Tomczak said.

Driver didn’t tell police he drank

JOLIET – When Chicago Heights police told Cecil R. Conner Jr. to drive his girlfriend’s young son home, he didn’t argue.

Whether the 22-year-old Steger man should have admitted to drinking was one of many points argued by attorneys Monday in Judge Edward Burmila’s courtroom.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Tomczak told the court that he has phone records showing Conner tried to find someone else to drive Kathie LaFond’s 5-year-old son home.

Tomczak also said keys could be heard on an audiotape as a Chicago Heights officer told Conner, “Drive that child home.”

LaFond was driving Conner and her son, Michael Langford, in her car May 10 when she was pulled over for routine traffic violations in Chicago Heights. LaFond was taken into custody for driving on a suspended license.

Police say there were no indications Connor was impaired. They told him to take the little boy home, but he smashed the car into a tree, killing the boy, about 40 minutes later at 34th and Carpenter Streets in Steger.

Conner faces multiple counts of aggravated DUI. His blood-alcohol content was .208, more than twice the legal limit, and had traces of marijuana.

The case will continue this week.

Mom blames cop, not boyfriend, for son’s death

JOLIET – As the trial opened against a Steger man accused of killing his girlfriend’s son in a drunken driving crash last spring, his attorneys focused their attention Monday on another man they say set the sad scenario in motion.

It was Chicago Heights Officer Chris Felicetti who stopped the young boy’s mother, Kathie LaFond, arrested her and forced her drunk boyfriend to drive, defense attorneys said.

That fatal decision led to the death of young Michael Langford Jr., who was sleeping in the back seat when Cecil Conner crashed into a tree.

“The evidence will show that Officer Felicetti set into play a circumstance that resulted in the death of Michael Langford,” Conner’s attorney Jeff Tomczak said during opening statements. “Kathie knows who caused this accident, and the evidence will show it’s not him,” he said, reaching back toward Conner.

Conner faces two counts of aggravated driving under the influence stemming from the May 10 crash along 34th Street near Carpenter Street that killed LaFond’s son, who was strapped into a booster chair in the backseat.

“Cecil Conner was drinking with the understanding he had a designated driver to take him where he needed to go,” Tomczak said.

LaFond had been driving Conner home from a party. But Felicetti stopped her at about 2:35 a.m. and arrested her on suspicion of driving with a suspended driver’s license. Felicetti ignored her efforts to tell him she was the designated driver and handed Conner the keys, threatening to arrest him if he didn’t take Michael home, Tomczak said.

Conner then called a friend for help, but the call dropped before he could tell her where he was.

Prosecution’s opening arguments

Assistant State’s Attorney Alyson DeBell summed up her case in just five minutes: Conner was drunk and at the wheel. He was speeding, driving more than twice the speed limit. He smashed the back end of the car so hard into a tree that it knocked off the bark.

“What about the little boy, Michael, trapped in his booster seat in the back of the car? Michael never took another breath,” she told jurors.

“It was the defendant alone who crashed the car due to intoxication and alone caused the death of 5-year-old Michael Langford,” DeBell concluded, the only time she looked away from the jury and back at Conner.

Young victim

Conner sat in a neat blue striped suit and matching tie, keeping quiet as a Steger patrol sergeant and Steger firefighters told jurors that Conner had only focused on Michael’s condition and care in the moments after the crash.

The 23-year-old defendant choked up a little during testimony by a Steger paramedic who kept treating little Michael even though he knew the child was already dead.

Steger Fire Capt. James Baine said he was spurred on by two words uttered by his partner: “He’s 5.”

“We just continued CPR. We couldn’t get anything,” Baine said.

Conner’s attorneys said they do not yet know whether he will testify in his own defense.

Blaming police

LaFond, who has been subpoenaed by prosecutors, also appeared at the Will County Courthouse on Monday morning. She was accompanied by the attorney representing her in a civil lawsuit against the Chicago Heights police department, Felicetti and Conner. Her testimony is expected later during the trial.

She blames Felicetti — not Conner — for her son’s death.

“It’s the cop that should be charged with it and not my boyfriend,” she said outside the courthouse. “I lost my kid because of that cop.”

Crash scene

The night of the crash, the impact of LaFond’s Cavalier against a tree awoke a Steger homeowner who thought the giant evergreen toppled into his home. Daniel Hollingshead dialed 911, threw on clothes and ran out to find, amid the wreckage, a driver calling out for help for a child.

Broken glass and chunks of bark littered the driveway; tire marks scarred two lawns except for a spot where the Cavalier may have been airborne, Hollingshead said.

He talked to the driver of the Cavalier, stuck on top of the uprooted evergreen, then turned his attention to the little boy in the back.

“Once I heard there was a kid in the car, that was the main thing I was worried about,” he said. “The child was unconscious and bleeding and in pretty bad shape.”

Testimony for the state continues today in Judge Edward Burmila’s courtroom.

Officer Who Gave Keys to Drunk Driver Testifies

The Chicago Heights police officer who allegedly handed a drunken Steger man the keys to a car and ordered him to drive shortly before the man crashed into a tree, killing his girlfriend’s 5-year-old son, testified Thursday that the man seemed fine.

Officer Chris Felicetti sounds stunned in a call recorded right after the crash in which a Chicago Heights police dispatcher tells him the boy, Michael Langford Jr., he’d seen moments before had died shortly after the traffic stop.

“Are you serious?” Felicetti asks. “Are you kidding me?

“Oh my God,” he says. “(The driver) was all right when I turned it over to him.

“The kid was secured safely in the child seat,” he says, before repeating the phrase “Oh my God” at least four times.

Judge Edward Burmila ruled that the recording could not be played during Thursday’s hearing on whether Steger police had probable cause to arrest Cecil Conner.

Before his ruling, Conner’s attorneys played the recording in the courtroom during a break in the hearing. Conner’s trial on several counts of aggravated drunken driving is scheduled to begin next week.

Felicetti’s testimony, which was cut short Thursday evening but was scheduled to resume Friday, came after two Steger police officers testified that Conner appeared highly intoxicated after the crash.

His blood alcohol content tested as high as .208 percent, and Conner reportedly had called friends shortly before the fatal crash, saying he was drunk and needed help because a Chicago Heights police officer had ordered him to drive.

On May 10, designated driver Kathie LaFond was driving Conner home after he’d been drinking at a friend’s house all day when she was pulled over by Felicetti and charged with driving on a suspended license.

About 40 minutes after Felicetti handed Conner the keys to LaFond’s red Chevrolet Cavalier, Conner drove off the road, went through several yards and crashed into a pine, uprooting the roughly 30-foot-tall tree.

The crash site near the southeast corner of Carpenter and 34th streets is about two miles from where LaFond was pulled over.

Michael, who was asleep in a car seat, died in the crash.

Steger police Sgt. Gerald Ruff testified that Conner was bleeding from a head wound, smelled of alcohol, was unable to give an accurate home address and fell over while sitting on a porch after the crash.

Conner told Ruff that a silver-colored car had cut him off — a story Ruff did not find credible — and urged him to “go get the bastard that did this.”

Steger police Detective Peter Fajman testified Thursday that Conner was slurring his speech and seemed confused after being taken to St. James Hospital.

“He would ask me repeatedly why he was there and what was going on,” said Fajman, who testified he smelled a “strong odor” of alcohol on Conner’s breath.

Felicetti gave a different picture, testifying that he told the Chicago Heights dispatcher that he gave Conner the car “based on my perception of him that he was OK.”

Conner’s attorney, Jeff Tomczak, is seeking to defend his client by arguing that Conner was following Felicetti’s orders when he drove that night.

Officer who gave keys to driver before crash testifies

The Chicago Heights police officer who allegedly handed a drunken Steger man the keys to a car and ordered him to drive shortly before the man crashed into a tree, killing his girlfriend’s 5-year-old son, testified Thursday that the man seemed fine.

Officer Chris Felicetti sounds stunned in a call recorded right after the crash in which a Chicago Heights police dispatcher tells him the boy, Michael Langford Jr., he’d seen moments before had died shortly after the traffic stop.

“Are you serious?” Felicetti asks. “Are you kidding me?

“Oh my God,” he says. “(The driver) was all right when I turned it over to him.

“The kid was secured safely in the child seat,” he says, before repeating the phrase “Oh my God” at least four times.
Judge Edward Burmila ruled that the recording could not be played during Thursday’s hearing on whether Steger police had probable cause to arrest Cecil Conner.

Before his ruling, Conner’s attorneys played the recording in the courtroom during a break in the hearing. Conner’s trial on several counts of aggravated drunken driving is scheduled to begin next week.

Felicetti’s testimony, which was cut short Thursday evening but was scheduled to resume Friday, came after two Steger police officers testified that Conner appeared highly intoxicated after the crash.

His blood alcohol content tested as high as .208 percent, and Conner reportedly had called friends shortly before the fatal crash, saying he was drunk and needed help because a Chicago Heights police officer had ordered him to drive.

On May 10, designated driver Kathie LaFond was driving Conner home after he’d been drinking at a friend’s house all day when she was pulled over by Felicetti and charged with driving on a suspended license.

About 40 minutes after Felicetti handed Conner the keys to LaFond’s red Chevrolet Cavalier, Conner drove off the road, went through several yards and crashed into a pine, uprooting the roughly 30-foot-tall tree.

The crash site near the southeast corner of Carpenter and 34th streets is about two miles from where LaFond was pulled over.
Michael, who was asleep in a car seat, died in the crash.

Steger police Sgt. Gerald Ruff testified that Conner was bleeding from a head wound, smelled of alcohol, was unable to give an accurate home address and fell over while sitting on a porch after the crash.

Conner told Ruff that a silver-colored car had cut him off — a story Ruff did not find credible — and urged him to “go get the bastard that did this.”
Steger police Detective Peter Fajman testified Thursday that Conner was slurring his speech and seemed confused after being taken to St. James Hospital.

“He would ask me repeatedly why he was there and what was going on,” said Fajman, who testified he smelled a “strong odor” of alcohol on Conner’s breath.

Felicetti gave a different picture, testifying that he told the Chicago Heights dispatcher that he gave Conner the car “based on my perception of him that he was OK.”

Conner’s attorney, Jeff Tomczak, is seeking to defend his client by arguing that Conner was following Felicetti’s orders when he drove that night.