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                                                                5490 S South Shore Drive
                                                                Chicago, Illinois 60615
                                                                February 11, 2014

Dear Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune:

You asked your readers to submit their ideas for improving life in the City of Chicago.  I would change the metrics by which prosecutors in Cook County are evaluated; placing less emphasis on a high felony conviction rate and more emphasis on an appropriate charging ratio of misdemeanors to felonies.

Background

I ran for Alderman of the Fifth Ward in the 2011 election.  Being involved in the political process is an experience that I think everyone should be involved with at least once in their lives.  I had the opportunity to talk to many residents of the Fifth Ward and its environs.  They would tell me of their problems and concerns, their hopes and their dreams. The universal themes were jobs, a safe environment, good schools and opportunities for their families.  Many had problems getting any job, never mind a good-paying job, because they had criminal records   Even an arrest, with no conviction, can be enough to torpedo a job application, in this day and age when employers routinely run criminal background checks on potential hires.

For many of the same reasons that prompted me to run, I became Interested in the area of sealing and expungement of criminal records, I began to volunteer for Cabrini Green legal Aid and for the Help Desk staffed by the Office of the State Appellate Defender in Waukegan, as well as participating at many other one-time expungement seminars, including the annual one sponsored by Dorothy Brown.

In the time that I have been volunteering in this area I have seen more young women than I can count who have felony  battery convictions for what was a simple bar fight.  I see their arrest records, their “rap” sheets.  There are no weapons charges, no charges for damage to property, and no serious bodily harm charges.  It appears that someone threw a punch and someone answered it.  These young women are arrested, held in jail and  then told that the prosecutor will give them time served (sometimes 3 or 4 days), or probation, if they plead guilty to felony battery, [1] This is overcharging, i.e,,. a prosecutor bringing a more serious criminal charge when a lesser criminal charge is warranted.  Prosecutors overcharge because they had and have incentives to do so.  These incentives include their evaluations by supervisors, [2] prosecutorial bragging rights, potential evaluations by law firms if they seek to join the defense bar or bar associations should they wish to run for a judgeship, voters should they wish to run for public office; as well as federal and state dollars which flow into prosecutorial office coffers based on the number of convictions, misdemeanor and felony.

It has become clear to me that for some of our young people “catching a case” is almost as common as catching a cold.  These young people, male and female, neither know what to do when arrested nor have the resources (parental or financial) to be able to protect themselves. 

I related many of these examples to my fellow members of the Union League Club.  In response, Union League club members worked with Cabrini Green Legal Aid, the Office of the State Appellate Defender, The Honorable Paul P. Biebel Jr. Circuit Judge. Presiding Judge Criminal Division and others to prepare a brochure entitled “Before You Decide: A Criminal Record Can Follow You Forever”, a copy of which will be sent to you under separate cover. But it is only part of the equation to provide more information to defendants.  The other part of the equation is that we must change the way prosecutors are evaluated and rewarded.  If they receive good evaluations from their supervisors for high felony conviction rates, then they will seek to have high felony conviction rates.

Change the Metrics for Evaluating Prosecutors

I would change the metrics used in the evaluations of prosecutors. The metrics currently used promote high felony conviction rates.  The prosecutor’s job is to represent The People. The People have an interest in justice being served.  Justice is served when people who break the law are charged with appropriate crimes.  It is said “Let the punishment fit the crime”,  It should also be “Let the conviction fit the crime” The People are not being well represented when a prosecutor is more focused on his/her felony conviction rate than whether the interest of justice is being served.

The legal construct for a felony is that it is a serious crime against society and there should be a real and serious punishment for this breach.[3]   What I see, time and time again, are young people who are told if they plead guilty to a felony this or a felony that, the prosecutor will accept time served or give them probation and the case will be over.  Time served, often only a few days, seems too lenient for a conviction for a true felony.  Conversely having the rest of your life ruined because you cannot ever get even a half way decent job based on your overcharged felony conviction is far too harsh.
Included in the evaluation of prosecutors should be a metric which is a ratio of misdemeanor to felony conviction rates. [4]   Too low a ratio would be deemed to indicate prosecutor’s personal interests were being served rather than The People’s. Further the metric of the above ratio should be broken down by socioeconomic groups.  If higher socioeconomic defendants are more likely to be charged with misdemeanors and lower socioeconomic defendants are more likely to be charged with felonies than, again, The People are not being served.

If you change the metrics for rewarding prosecutors, the prosecutors will change their charging behaviors. [5]   This does not require legislation, it can be done by administrative directive. it does not require expensive programs, a CLE course for prosecutors can easily be developed.  The defense bar also needs a similar CLE course.  It is not sufficient to say I kept you out of jail even if your life is ruined. If prosecutors change their behaviors based on the above metrics there will be fewer felony convictions and more convictions eligible to be sealed. This will be of benefit to Chicago and Cook County [6] as more of its citizens will be eligible for good jobs. [7]

I believe this change will make a difference in the lives of Chicagoans and should be part of a new plan for the city of Chicago.

Please feel free to edit this submission if  necessary.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

                                                                        Very truly yours,

                                                                        Anne Marie Miles
                                                                        MilesEsq@aol.com
                                                                        773-726-4259

_________________

  1. This would be an especially attractive offer for a young mother who is concerned that her child(ren) will be taken by DCFS if she is incarcerated.
  2. Who are, in turn, evaluated by their bosses who are elected or politically appointed.
  3. Committing a felony was deemed so serious a breach of the social contract that disenfranchisement was automatic upon conviction in many states.
  4. Obviously prosecutors in different units or areas will have differing ratios.
  5. I am assured by the economists at the University of Chicago’s crime lab that changing evaluation metrics will result in a concomitant change in behavior.
  6. Although Chicago has a black box warning that no questions may be asked about convictions on job applications there are many exceptions for schools, youth programs, hospitals, law enforcement and positions of trust.
  7. I do not address the issue of alternative sentencing programs at this time because those programs will take time and money to develop and implement, and this change can be instituted far more quickly. Nor do I address current issues such as expansion of crimes which may be sealed (Illinois having made significant progress in the last few years) increased use of presidential and gubernatorial pardons and restoration of voting rights for felons.

 

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