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Towns’ views differ on crime

Kane County Chronicle
May 6, 2008
Sugar Grove is nearly alone among central nearby communities in making possession of marijuana, paraphernalia and underage drinking punishable by local tickets and fines for the first two offenses.

Geneva gives local tickets as punishment for underage drinking, and St. Charles lets officers have the discretion to punish marijuana possession with a local fine or state charges, officials said.

The rest - including Aurora, Batavia, North Aurora, South Elgin and Elgin - apply state charges, which involves an arrest, fingerprints, posting bond and court.

“It beats sending them to court,” Sugar Grove Village President Sean Michels said. “Everyone deserves a second chance.”

But Kathleen Colton, a Batavia criminal defense attorney, cautioned that paying a local fine is pleading guilty.

“It does not look like such a great deal to me,” Colton said. “If you pay the ticket, the person is pleading guilty to the charge, and it’s a conviction. The [Kane County] State’s Attorney has a drug and alcohol diversion program, so if someone gets a state charge, he can be diverted. He can pay the program fee, go to counseling or classes and do community service and then move to expunge it.”

When criminal records are expunged, she said, the original reports are sent to the person or the attorney to be destroyed and it is as though he was never arrested in the first place.

Expungment matters if a person wants to get into certain types of jobs, the military or even an apartment, she said.

“That’s the beauty of expungment,” Colton said.

Kane County State’s Attorney John Barsanti agreed that paying a fine is a conviction.

But he said local ordinance tickets can be viewed as a way to reduce the number of people that go through the court system.

“We do a great deal of charges for low-level drug offenses,” Barsanti said. “Maybe this can be the answer to that.”

But Elburn Police Cmdr. Steve Smith sees it as another tool police can use to steer someone straight. Though the village currently does not have local ordinance violations for those offenses, they might institute them in the future, he said.

“Having this as an ordinance violation gives the officers something else to use,” Smith said. “Maybe we would want to give a first-time offender a break, so it does not go on their permanent record. It might steer them in the correct direction - or to the courts for a second or third time.”

A typical scenario involves a youthful offender with less than 2.5 grams of marijuana - enough for one cigarette.

“If he’s never been in trouble before and we’re getting cooperation from the parents, it’s ‘Let’s try this and see if it works,’ ” Smith said. “I think both [local ordinance and state charges] are useful. I think it depends on the circumstances.”

Sugar Grove’s local ordinances include:

• First offense for possession of marijuana is $200, second offense is $275.

• First offense for possession of paraphernalia is $200, second offense is $275.

• First offense for underage drinking is $160, second offense is $225

St. Charles’ local ordinances include:

• A fine of not more than $500 for possession of marijuana for each offense.

Geneva’s local ordinances include:

• A $100 fine for underage drinking.