Chicago Judge Reminds City’s Mayor That The Presumption Of Innocence Still Exists

from the Mayor-Lightfoot:-do-not-pass-GO dept

Well, this is ugly. Lots of states and cities have considered bail reform in recent years, given the system’s propensity for punishing the poorest people while allowing the more fortunate to buy their way out of jail.

The criminal justice system is built on the presumption of innocence — something that’s often ignored by law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, and juries. Ostensibly a tool used to help ensure accused criminals show up for their court dates, it has become a contributor to a two-tiered justice system that keeps presumably innocent (but less advantaged) people behind bars just because they don’t have the funds to get released.

Like any law enforcement reform effort, it has tons of law enforcement critics. It also has plenty of critics in the legislative ranks. According to critics, eliminating cash bail in all but the most severe cases allows known criminals to commit more crimes or evade justice by walking away from their criminal trials. These claims ignore the foundation of the justice system: that accused criminals are innocent until proven guilty.

It’s one thing when a police official says something this stupid. It’s quite another when it’s the leader of one of the largest cities in the United States. Here’s Dave Byrnes with the details for Courthouse News Service:

“We shouldn’t be locking up nonviolent individuals just because they can’t afford to pay bail,” [Chicago Mayor Lori] Lightfoot said during a Monday afternoon press conference on public safety in Chicago. “But, given the exacting standards that the state’s attorney has for charging a case, which is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, when those charges are brought – these people are guilty.”

Mayor Lightfoot is wrong — not just in her belief that the presumption of innocence does not exist, but about the legal standard needed to bring criminal charges. The “exacting standard” she cites is what’s needed to secure a criminal conviction in a jury trial. To bring criminal charges, all a prosecutor needs is (completely unchallenged) assertions saying there is probable cause a crime was committed. That’s a much lower bar. From there, prosecutors move towards “beyond a reasonable doubt.” And while they go through that (slow, often-delayed) process, people who can’t afford bail stay locked up.

So, there’s a big disconnect between criminal charges and “beyond a reasonable doubt” evidence that a crime was committed by an arrested suspect. This means truly innocent people are locked up all the time, denied release because they can’t pay bail. And that’s according to prosecutors’ own statistics.

The Cook County State’s Attorney Office’s own numbers do not reflect this assertion. In an email sent to Courthouse News on Tuesday afternoon, it said it approved charges in about 86% of the cases it reviewed, with a 74% conviction rate.

Using these numbers alone, one out of four people locked up in pretrial detention are innocent… or at least lacking enough evidence against them to allow prosecution to continue.

Mayor Lightfoot backpedaled a bit on her first assertion, admitting the presumption of innocence was still part of the justice system, but reiterated that people charged with violent crimes were perhaps less entitled to this presumption.

The mayor said that those charged with violent crimes by the CCSAO should not be released on bail prior to their trials. She urged Chicagoans to “keep pressing the criminal courts to lock up violent, dangerous people and not put them out on bail or electronic monitoring.”

Fortunately for Chicagoans, not only is the law on their side, but so is the local judiciary. Cook County Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans fired back at the mayor with a statement [PDF] of his own, pointing out the errors of her assertions.

A recent claim that all those accused of violent crimes are “guilty” and should be in jail prior to trial is wrong on both the law and the facts, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans said on Tuesday.

[…]

“As I have previously stated, I respectfully disagree that the automatic detention in jail of defendants facing certain categories of charges is a constitutional practice under the United States and Illinois constitutions. Pretrial detention serves a legitimate purpose, preventing the serious risk of committing crimes while on pretrial release. Its purpose is not, however, to punish by depriving people of their liberty for crimes for which they have not yet been convicted.”

The judge goes on to point out that an actual justice system involves weighing several factors before determining what is the least restrictive way to ensure the public’s safety and the return of defendants to court. Cash bail is not always the solution and should be used carefully.

And, as his statement notes, accused violent criminals still have the same rights. According to the stats cited in his letter, over 14% of accused violent criminals are either found not guilty at trial or have their cases dropped following further investigation by the prosecutor’s office. As for the argument that eliminating cash bail somehow makes Chicago less safe, the judge cites two studies from local universities — one that showed that only 1% of suspects released on bond were rearrested for violent offences and that of the city’s 4,447 homicides and shooting incidents in 2021, only three were linked to released violent suspects.

The mayor is wrong on the law, the stats, and the Constitution. Fortunately, she’s been called out by the head of the local judiciary. Unfortunately, the judge’s solid response will go ignored by those who actually believe accused criminals are guilty criminals. And those people are, far too often, the ones who hold the power to disrupt and destroy lives by acting on this mistaken assumption.

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Comments on “Chicago Judge Reminds City’s Mayor That The Presumption Of Innocence Still Exists”

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17 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

When the Eight Amendment states that “excessive bail shall not be required,” this explicitly normalizes and blesses the concept of the bail system, so long as it is not excessive. The real problem here is not locking up violent offenders; it’s holding them for excessive lengths of time without a trial in violation of their Sixth Amendment protection against the same. The reform that’s truly needed is to get the accused to trial more quickly so that they can be convicted or acquitted and get it over with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Pretrial detention serves a legitimate purpose, preventing the serious risk of committing crimes while on pretrial release. Its purpose is not, however, to punish by depriving people of their liberty for crimes for which they have not yet been convicted.

Unfortunately, denial of bail (or placing bail out of reach simply by the size of the bond) is also being used “to ensure the accused shows up in court”. There are so very many other, more cost effective, means of doing so, including phone text messages, and sending an Uber to pick them up. And by “cost effective”, I mean cost effective to the state, as well as to the accused.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Hyman Rosen (profile) says:

The cardinal mistake made by woke ideologues is to emphasize plights of the worst people among us rather than of normal people. So instead of concern for the victim, they have concern for the criminal. Instead of concern for the legal resident, they have concern for the illegal alien. Instead of concern for a livable neighborhood, they have concern for the stinking bum on the street. Instead of concern for women’s privacy and comfort, they have concern for men who want to intrude upon women’s spaces.

Then, having discarded looking after normal people, they wonder why they cannot win elections.

Turning bail into an issue of rich versus poor is pure gaslighting. Rich people aren’t the ones committing street crime.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

The cardinal mistake made by woke ideologues is to emphasize plights of the worst people among us rather than of normal people.

People who’ve been accused of crimes are still people. They deserve the same access to (and protection of) their civil rights as everyone else⁠—especially if the accused is innocent. Or do you believe the Central Park Five should still be in jail?

Rocky says:

Re: Re:

Taking Hymen’s post at face value it seems he doesn’t believe in the presumption of innocence and due process if it concerns people who he thinks are “the worst people among us”.

I’m certain that there are some that would argue that people like Hymen belong to that type of group.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

to emphasize plights of the worst people among us

… you do realize that we’re talking about the accused, not the convicted in this post, right? The whole point of the post is about minding that distinction.

Rich people aren’t the ones committing street crime.

Well, you’re right there. Instead, they’re committing tax fraud, money laundering, and embezzlement. And that’s just the things that are against the law!

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Flight from justice

Tim writes:

… “evade justice”…

The US Constitution in Article IV Section 2 says:

… “flee from justice”…

People rarely “flee” or “evade” justice. They flee or evade from someone else’s idea of what constitutes justice.

For one example,2014-2020 police in the US killed almost 8,000 people, of which over 25% were Black — more than double the per capita number of Black people in the United States (12.4%).

Some of these people were running from murderers armed with 9mm “service” weapons, and some with AR-15 style weapons. In over 90% of the cases, the murderers were not charged with any crime because they had a shield on their uniform. They are the police.

Evading the police or fleeing them seems to be something that anyone desiring to live should consider. It’s not fleeing from “justice” nor “eluding” it.

Bail is not supposed to punishment — that would be unjust. It is meant to ensure the defendant shows to trial, and is not an ancillary byproduct of the process, but it’s intent:
“Bail is not a fine. It is not supposed to be used as punishment. The purpose of bail is simply to ensure that defendants will appear for trial and all pretrial hearings for which they must be present.”
https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_education/resources/law_related_education_network/how_courts_work/bail/

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

For one example,2014-2020 police in the US killed almost 8,000 people, of which over 25% were Black — more than double the per capita number of Black people in the United States (12.4%).

This is true. It’s also exceptionally misleading, to the point of outright deception, if you stop there and neglect to point out that black people commit approximately four times their “per capita fair share” of violent crimes in America.

Viewed in context, this completely changes the picture, far from insinuating that police are racist and hunting down black people, it shows precisely the opposite: police treat black people with kid gloves and are approximately half as likely to shoot them as people of other races. (Most likely because they understand full well what activists will make of it!)

This appears to be a cultural issue rather than a racial one, as people of African descent in other countries don’t have the same high propensity for violent crime. But as long as influential voices continue to cynically insist upon viewing everything through the lens of race, rather than following Martin Luther King’s example in actually addressing the very real cultural problems plaguing black America, it’s a problem that’s likely to only get worse.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Race-baiting

This is true. It’s also exceptionally misleading, to the point of outright deception, if you stop there and neglect to point out that black people commit approximately four times their “per capita fair share” of violent crimes in America.

I said murdered by cops, not charged with a crime, tried in a court, and found guilty.

The rest of the stuff above begs a bunch of questions, such as how many “violent crimes in America” are committed not by cops by Black people GET REPORTED, vs how many such committed not by Black people DON’T GET REPORTED. By ignoring these constraints, the statistics aren’t suggesting what you claim.

But then again I said MURDER BY COP, not “commit violent crimes.” Secondly, some of those “crimes” aren’t what suggest.

Link: https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2019/crime-in-the-u.s.-2019/tables/table-43
Their own disclaimer: 2 The ethnicity totals are representative of those agencies that provided ethnicity breakdowns. Not all agencies provide ethnicity data; therefore, the race and ethnicity totals will not equal.
3 The rape figures in this table are aggregate totals of the data submitted based on both the legacy and revised Uniform Crime Reporting definitions.
4 Violent crimes are offenses of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Property crimes are offenses of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.

The Dark Avenger says:

Justice

DUKAT: Really? I wonder what else we have in common.

SISKO: Very little, I imagine.

DUKAT: Other than the fact that you have my office. Tell me, what’s going to happen with your prisoners?

SISKO: They’ll be tried for their crimes under the Federation Code of Justice.

DUKAT: And if they’re found innocent?

SISKO: I doubt that they will, but if they are, they’ll be set free.

DUKAT: How barbaric. On Cardassia, the verdict is always known before the trial begins. And it’s always the same.
SISKO: In that case, why bother with a trial at all?

DUKAT: Because the people demand it. They enjoy watching justice triumph over evil every time. They find it comforting.

SISKO: Isn’t there ever a chance you might try an innocent man by mistake?

DUKAT: Cardassians don’t make mistakes.

SISKO: I’ll have to remember that.

DUKAT: Commander, one thing does puzzle me. Surely the Central Command was informed of my kidnapping.

SISKO: They learned about it almost as soon as it happened.

DUKAT: Then why was I rescued by you? Why wasn’t the station surrounded by Cardassian ships demanding my release?

SISKO: We did receive a visit from Legate Parn.

DUKAT: Ah. I’m sure he made some rather ugly threats on my behalf.

SISKO: He said that you were the one responsible for smuggling weapons into the Demilitarised zone, that if the Maquis did not execute you, then the Central Command would. After a comforting trial, I’m sure.

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