Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Compelling Fear

"The times they are a-changin', wrote Robert Zimmerman some 55 years ago.  This can be seen particularly clearly in the nation's third largest city, in which

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is calling for Cook County judges to stop putting alleged violent offenders on electronic monitoring and has asked for more federal agents to come to Chicago for gun investigations.

The mayor made those calls during a Monday speech about public safety — a speech made as violence has skyrocketed in Chicago and across the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chicago has seen more than 780 homicides so far this year.

“The time for talk is over,” Lightfoot said. “We need concrete and definitive steps to be taken.”

Much of what Lightfoot called for has been in the works: She renewed a push to pass an ordinance that would make it so the city could sue gang members to seize their assets, and she said the city will invest in communities to create opportunities for residents and prevent violence.

I've never been fond of civil forfeiture, and am not about Lightfoot's order, either. However

the mayor announced she’ll also ask for Cook County judges to put a moratorium on electronic monitoring for people charged with serious, violent crimes like murder, attempted murder, rape and carjacking. She said 51 people have been arrested for a shooting or murder while on electronic monitoring this year, and there is “often [no] meaningful supervision” for people in the program.

Local judges have let “almost 2,300 offenders with these charges back onto our streets, in our neighborhoods, on our blocks,” Lightfoot said. “It defies common sense, it is not safe, and this practice must be stopped immediately.”

Lightfoot said she’ll send a formal request for the moratorium to begin immediately for people charged with murder, attempted murder, aggravated gun possession, felons in possession, sex crimes, illegal gun possession, carjacking, kidnapping or attempted kidnapping.

Fifty-one people have been arrested for a shooting or murder while on electronic monitoring this year. If that's accurate, it's an indictment of the city's electronic monitoring Program. Nevertheless

Sharone Mitchell, Cook County public defender, said the solutions Lightfoot outlined in the speech are “based on fear” and criticized her call for the moratorium.

“The mayor’s regressive proposal calls for the pretrial detention of thousands of people who haven’t been convicted of anything and the plan could only be achieved by exploding the population of Cook County Jail in the middle of a pandemic,” Mitchell said in a statement. “It’s clearly unconstitutional, given that everyone is entitled to an individualized hearing on the specifics of their case, but more importantly it would result in the incarceration of an untold number of people who did nothing but get accused of a criminal offense.”

Those criminal offenses- aside from "sex crimes," an umbrella term- are murder, attempted murder, rape, and carjacking. These are not misdemeanors. They are not minor felonies. They are major, violent offenses.

The role of the public defender's office is to pursue the legal interests of their clients, so it may not be surprising that the agency in Chicago is representing the rights and privileges of individuals who appear to present a serious threat to the community.  Whatever: the suspects still would get their day in court, including trial by jury if they choose to plead not guilty

But the state must not carry the burden of proof in determining whether an individual arrested for such a grotesque illegal act should be released without having to put up bond or bail.  The bail should be set sufficiently high that he (or she, in a minority of cases) is deterred from missing court and the citizens of Chicago (and elsewhere) need to be protected as much as legally possible.

The public defender's office will be, I suppose, the public defender's office, and there are many people who are still caught up in the anti-law enforcement mania of summer 2020.  Lori Lightfoot herself never has been known as a law-and-order fanatic or hardliner. If she recognizes that major crime should not be tolerated, sensible criminal justice policies may be just around the corner.


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