When to Use the Dumbass Plea | Miscellany | Chicago Reader

When to Use the Dumbass Plea 

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New in town? Criminal defense attorney John Yetter says he makes good money off college students who've gotten in trouble for drunken antics. The "dumbass" plea usually works, he says: if the offense isn't too serious and you apologize for being a dumbass, there's a good chance your case will be discharged.

Parking yourself on a park bench (or elsewhere in a park) after 11 PM

Fine up to $500

Officer tells you to move along

Driving over 30 mph on a Chicago street or over 15 in an alley

$90-$200 fine for first offense; $150-$300 for second; $200-$500 for third within three years

Did you just break up with your boyfriend? Find out a relative is terminally ill? If your sob story doesn't persuade the cop to let you off with a warning, a traffic-court judge determines the fine.

Trespassing on private property

$100-$500 fine for municipal violation. If the cop chooses to make it a state charge, you can get up to a year in jail, up to a $2,500 fine, or both. Don't piss him off.

First-time offenders brought up on state charges tend to get court supervision--which means if they behave, the case gets discharged.

Possession of marijuana

Range from 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine for under 2.5 grams to three to seven years in prison for over 500 grams. People caught with amounts exceeding 500 grams get slapped with "intent to deliver."

Depends on who your parents are

Driving with an open container of alcohol

Up to a year in jail, a fine up to $2,500, both, or court supervision

For first-time offenders, supervision; case eventually discharged

Driving under the influence

Fine up to $2,500, suspension of license, possible jail time up to a year

First-time offenders lose their license for three to six months (but can get a permit to drive after 30 days). Offend more than once, says Yetter, and you are "various levels of screwed."

Disorderly conduct

Range from up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine to a sentence of three to seven years

Cases of run-of-the-mill disorderliness--swearing menacingly at someone or playing the stereo too loud--usually get discharged. Calling in a bomb threat doesn't.

Drinking alcohol in a public way

$100-$500 fine, or jail for up to six months, or both fine and time

Court supervision


For retail thefts under $150, up to a year in jail, a $2,500 fine, or court supervision

Community service for first offense: anything from manning the cash register at a nonprofit resale shop to picking up garbage on the roadside

Accumulating "debris, refuse, garbage, trash...in a manner that may harbor mosquitoes, flies, insects, rodents, birds, or other animal pests"

Fine up to $100 for first offense

Your roommate moves out

Mutilating your draft card

One to three years in prison

Young men (18 to 25) are issued "registration acknowledgement cards," not draft cards, but the law applies to the mutilation of any valid registration certificate issued by the selective service. Writing "George Bush sucks" on the card could result in imprisonment, but chances are it won't. The Cook County state's attorney's office has no record of ever having prosecuted anyone under this charge.

Urinating in public

Fine between $100 and $500; jail time between five and ten days; or both


Stepping on, burning, or otherwise defacing a U.S., state, city, or foreign flag

Fine up to $250 or jail time of up to six months

First Amendment foes go apeshit.


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