The Effect of Progressive Prosecution on Illinois Criminal Law

The movement toward progressive prosecution is growing in the Chicagoland area. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is one of a growing number of prosecutors who embrace a progressive approach. Foxx’s 2016 campaign centered around the issue of dropping incarceration rates. She promised voters that she would attempt to reform Chicago’s criminal justice system. Specifically, she has attempted to push prosecutors to seek alternatives to incarceration. Progressive prosecutors are in the minority. Nonetheless, recent data suggests that progressive prosecution may correlate with an overall reduction of actual reported crime in Chicago.

Groups That Support Kim Foxx Claim that Progressive Prosecution is Working

A report released by several groups that supported Kim Foxx’s campaign indicates that sentences of incarceration have declined sharply. The report indicates that in Ms. Foxx’s second year in office, the percentage of individuals given incarceration sentences has decreased by 19%. According to FBI statistics, reported violent crimes decreased by 8% between January and June of 2018. However, this information conflicts with national data which states the number of victims of violent crime in the United States rose by 20% from 2015 to 2018, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported Tuesday. Among people 12 or older, according to the bureau’s National Crime Victimization Survey, the number of victims of crimes other than homicide rose from 2.7 million in 2015 to 3.3 million last year.

The report does concede that factors outside of Ms. Foxx’s control could contribute to the decrease in sentences of incarceration. However, the report points out four key policy changes promoted by Foxx that likely contributed to the decline in incarceration sentences.

Raising the Monetary Requirement for Felony Retail Theft Charges

Raising the amount in felony retail theft charges from $300 to $1000 or greater has decreased retail theft prosecutions. This change resulted in a 74% decrease in the amount of felony retail theft charges during the first two years of Foxx’s administration. The Foxx administration has deferred prosecution on most misdemeanor cases of theft and they are now being by and large prosecuted by local municipal prosecutors.

The Use of Alternatives to Prosecution

Foxx has asked Chicago prosecutors to use alternatives to prosecution whenever possible. Suspects charged with felonies can choose to participate in diversion programs. Upon successful completion of diversion programs, the defendants can avoid felony convictions and incarcerations. Assistant state’s attorneys have referred 25% more suspects to diversion programs under Foxx’s term than prosecutors referred under the term of her predecessor.

Improving Prosecutor Discretion

Foxx has given prosecutors more leeway to dismiss charges and offer plea deals that are more favorable for defendants. During her term, the dismissal rate of charges has increased by 29%. The number of guilty felony pleas has decreased by 11% during her term.

Critics of Progressive Prosecution

Critics of progressive prosecution content that the policies may decrease public safety. Releasing more suspects could result in a higher crime rate in the long term. U.S. Attorney McSwain argues that if his office had not increased the number of prosecutions for violent criminals, the number of shootings and homicides would be on the rise.

Other local judges who spoke anonymously to The Los Angeles Times on the matter pointed out that citizens are under-reporting crime because they do not think prosecutors will prosecute drug possession and petty theft. Critics also charge that Prosecution/Police relations have suffered as a result of these policies. Crime in Chicago may be down in the short term under Foxx’s leadership, but the long-term effects of progressive prosecution remain to be seen.

If You are Facing a Criminal Charge in Cook County, We can Help

Kim Foxx is attempting to reduce incarceration rates through progressive prosecution. Nonetheless, law enforcement officers continue to make arrests daily and many prosecutors continue to seek the harshest charges and sentences possible. If you are facing a criminal charge in Cook County, securing experienced legal representation is essential. Contact the Chicago criminal defense attorneys at Glasgow & Olsson to schedule your initial consultation today.

(image courtesy of Robert Hickerson)

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