Motorcyclist Rendered Quadriplegic
In 2016 my personal injury law firm located in Bloomington, Illinois secured its first multi-million dollar settlement for $2 million dollars. Details of the case and the nature of the settlement can be found HERE: The case was quite possibly worth more, but unfortunately the defendant only had insurance coverage totaling $2 million dollars, and in order to have the possibility of securing more for our client from a source other than the defendant, who might have very well filed for bankruptcy had a large verdict been secured at trial, we had to first make a demand for the policy limits—more details of which will be discussed below(1).
It was a great pleasure representing Mr. Peden, and my relationship with him and his family grew significantly during the years my firm represented him; we became very fond of one another. It was not at all uncommon for me to visit him at his home, both prior to and after the settlement of his case. There was even a time I recall visiting with him at his youngest son’s baseball game. It was a tragic case, and in 2021 sadly I attended his funeral. Sadly, he passed from complications relating to his injuries; complications which stemmed from his paralysis, the details of which I do not recall. And, despite having been diagnosed as a paraplegic, because of the extreme limits of the use of his upper extremities, Mr. Peden maintained a relatively positive attitude. It was quite inspiring. Long before he passed, I would tell him many times that if I ever acquired the boat that I wanted that I would christen it “The DRP”, which are his initials—unfortunately, as of this writing, I am still a landlubber.
Above I mentioned that I would discuss details about the demand that led to the settlement. For years, defendant’s attorney would profess that there was only $1 million in coverage, which I found hard to believe. As a result of being a bit of a skeptic by nature, knowing a little bit about insurance policies, and the nature of excess policies, I didn’t necessarily believe this. Knowing that the defendant had liability coverage of hundreds of thousands of dollars on two of his policies, I just had a hard time believing that there wasn’t an excess policy—also known as an umbrella policy. My knowledge and experience paid off. While reviewing those policies again, I noticed that all of the defendant’s policies were secured from the same insurance agent. I immediately issued a subpoena to this agent requiring him to produce all policies of insurance issued to the defendant by his office. What did I discover when the documents were produced pursuant to the subpoena? That another $1 million dollars existed in the form of an excess policy. My skepticism paid off. We immediately withdrew our demand of $1 million and resubmitted our demand for the full $2 million that provided coverage for the accident. The defendant ultimately tendered the policy limits.
(1) Demand for the policy limits was necessary in order to secure the possibility of procuring more from the defendant’s insurers. See, in Illinois, a separate cause of action for bad faith can be instituted against a defendant’s insurer(s) which does not tender the policy limits after a bona fide offer of settlement is demanded of it for the policy limits. Generally, this requires that a plaintiff make an offer of settlement for an amount equal to or less than the policy limits, the insurer’s refusal to settle for that amount, and a verdict in excess of the policy limits. A claim for bad faith would also require the defendant to assign his bad faith claim to the plaintiff.
Felony Unlawful Use of Weapons Case
Despite finding the ammunition in his residence, Terry was able to successfully argue that the way in which the ammunition was discovered by law enforcement violated both the Illinois and United States Constitutions and decisions of both the U.S. Supreme Court and Illinois Appellate Court, including the Fifth District’s decision in People v. Robbins, 369 N.E.2d 577, 580-581 (Ill. App. Ct. 5th Dist. 1977). Terry’s review of the discovery in this particular case revealed that the officer found the ammunition concealed in a purple “Crown Royal” bag, a closed container, which is used to package “Crown Royal” whiskey. However, the “Crown Royal” bag was located in a safe in an unoccupied bedroom in a closet.
Terry attacked the State’s intent to introduce this evidence by arguing that the search that led to the discovery of the ammunition was conducted without a search warrant; was not in “plain view” because the objects seized were not themselves in plain view; that officers had no right to be in a position for the view; that the objects were not discovered inadvertently by the officer; that the incriminating nature of the objects was not immediately apparent to the viewer and were concealed in a closed container; that the search violated the defendant’s reasonable expectation of privacy; that the search was without the consent of the defendant; and, that the search was without the lawful consent of a person authorized to consent to a search of the premises.
But, this particular individual’s legal problems were not over with the dismissal of unlawful use of a weapon charge against him. Terry had to still convince a jury that the Defendant did not commit the crime of aggravated battery of a police officer when the State accused the defendant of pushing one of the police officers who had responded to the scene. At trial, Terry convinced the jury that his client did not intentionally or knowingly contact the police officer in an insulting or provoking way because he had been blinded by pepper-spray by an officer who had been called to the scene where he and his girlfriend lived at the request of the defendant because of his girlfriend’s jealous ex-boyfriend who had come to their home for the sole purpose of starting a fight with the defendant.
Cases such as these are rare because there is often not evidence to suppress. However, by hiring an experienced Illinois Criminal Defense Lawyer who is educated, knows the law, and has been trained to spot issues such as these gives any defendant a fighting chance. Results of course will vary and absolutely no attorney can change the facts. The facts are what they are. It is simply the job of a good attorney to present the facts in the most favorable way.
During the representation of one of Terry’s more recent clients, Terry was able to successfully suppress ammunition that was discovered in the residence of his client who was unable to possess either guns or ammunition because of a prior felony conviction.
Unlawful Use of Weapons Charges
In another case tried by Mr. Dodds, Mr. Dodds represented a client charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, a Class 4 Felony.
The indictment alleged that the client unlawfully possessed a loaded firearm in a vehicle and also possessed it while not having a valid Firearm Owners Identification Card (FOID card). The weapon itself was found by the arresting officer in a diaper bag, which belonged to the Defendant. The bag itself was found at or near the clients feet and she did not deny it belonging to her.
Despite the diaper bag and the weapon being found in extremely close proximity to the Defendant, the automobile in which the client was riding was also occupied by three other adult males.
Luckily this Defendant could not be impeached by her prior convictions because she had none. This was a tremendous advantage, as it allowed the client to more easily tell her side of the story. However, this also meant the stakes were high because obviously, the client wanted to avoid a felony conviction on her record.
Mr. Dodds first established the location of each occupant of the vehicle through cross-examination of the police officer. He then had the officer tell the jury about how the client was shocked that the gun was found in the automobile and that she unapproved of it being there. He also established that the client had told him that she didn't even like guns. At this point, the State rested its case, because it had no other witnesses.
After the State had rested their case, Mr. Dodds first called the Defendant. She testified as the officer had previously stated in the States case-in-chief and also added that she would not have allowed the gun in the vehicle had she known of its existence because of safety concerns for her son.
Once the Defendant had completed her testimony, Mr. Dodds then called one of the other occupants of the vehicle who helped solidify that the gun was not her gun. This individual testified that he had previously never seen the Defendant with a weapon. However, he added that he had indeed in fact seen his friend who was seated next to the Defendant in the vehicle with guns on multiple occasions.
Unlawful Delivery of A Controlled Substance
Recently, Mr. Dodds successfully defended a client accused of delivery of a controlled substance within 1000 feet of a protected area. The stakes were high and had the client been convicted, the sentencing judge would have had no choice, but to sentence her to the Illinois Department of Corrections because the crime the she was accused of committing was a Class X Felony (non-probationable, with a sentence ranging from six years to thirty years in the Department of Corrections). In other words, the judge would have had no discretion to give her probation.
The States entire case was based solely on the testimony of the confidential source (informant) that the police had solicited to help them and an audio recording (wire) that was utilized during the alleged drug transaction. Through testimony elicited by witnesses, Mr. Dodds was able to establish that this was the only evidence and that there were flaws in the evidence that the State did have. During the course of the trial it was established that the confidential source utilized by the State had 10 prior felony convictions ranging from theft to dope dealing. The audio recording showed that neither the confidential source nor the unidentified female ever identified the female by her name.
Mr. Dodds argued to the jury that cases were like structures or foundations of buildings; some weak and frail, and others strong like brick. He suggested to them that his job ordinarily was to chip away at the States case or make enough holes in the foundation so that the weaknesses of the case were revealed enough to show reasonable doubt. He pleaded with them, however, that it wasnt even necessary for him to do so in this particular case because the case was so weak and that it had no foundation whatsoever. He pointed out to the jury that the foundation of this case was solely based on the allegations of Confidential Source who was a 10 time convicted felon solely interested in fabricating lies to help himself out of a jam.
Of course, no case is identical, and sometimes the lone testimony of a Confidential Source is evidence enough to gain a conviction; but ordinarily something else will be needed. Without some additional evidence, such as photographs showing the defendant coming or going, buy-money tying the defendant to the transaction, mail linking the defendant to the residence, possession of other narcotics when arrested, a co-defendant willing to testify (or turn states evidence as it is often referred), a confession, or other such evidence linking the defendant to the transaction, it may be hard for the State to overcome their burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Cases like these illustrate why it is so imperative that an attorney with a trained legal eye skilled at eliciting helpful testimony with an ability to present a strong argument to a jury chosen by him and the client is so terribly important.