AUBURN GRESHAM — In a stunning remark, Mayor Lori Lightfoot took her rebuke of Cook County judges and its bail system a step further Monday, saying people accused of violent crimes “are guilty” and should not be granted bail pending trial.
The mayor made the comments as she was announcing more details of the city’s Home and Business Protection Rebate Program at St. Sabina Church Monday. The city will reimburse residents who buy security cameras, video storage, outdoor lighting and vehicle GPS trackers up to $1,020, Lightfoot’s office said.
Speaking about two Chicago police officers, a U.S. Marshal and a police dog who were shot in separate incidents in the past week, Lightfoot said people are increasingly emboldened to shoot at police because they don’t feel they will be held accountable for their actions.
Lightfoot, an attorney and former prosecutor, then repeated a common refrain that Cook County judges are being too lenient on people accused of violent crimes and more defendants need to be kept in jail as they await trial “because they are a danger to the community by definition.”
“We don’t want to turn Cook County Jail into a debtor’s prison. We shouldn’t be locking up nonviolent individuals just because they can’t afford to pay a bail. 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,” Lightfoot said.
“Of course they’re entitled to a presumption of innocence. Of course they’re entitled to their day in court. But residents in our community are also entitled to safety from dangerous people, so we need to keep pressing the criminal courts to lock up violent, dangerous people and not put them out on bail or electronic monitoring back into the very same communities where brave souls are mustering the courage to come forward and say, ‘This is the person who is responsible.’”
Letting people who have been charged with violent crimes out on bond “undermines safety, it tells the victims there is no justice for them and it undermines the legitimacy of the criminal courts,” she said.
“If we hold violent, dangerous people accountable, we will see a significant drop in the violence in our city,” Lightfoot said. “But when you’ve got somebody who’s accused of murder, attempted murder, rape, kidnapping, carjacking, as is now, these people are walking the streets right now today in our communities because our criminal courts are not doing their job and taking into consideration the danger to the community.”
Criminal courts operate under the tenet a defendant is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The comments from the mayor, a former federal prosecutor, also are noteworthy given Chicago and Cook County’s ongoing history with police torture and misconduct, false confessions, wrongful prosecutions and exonerations.
Illinois has the highest number of exonerations of any state in the country since 1989, with the majority of overturned convictions coming from Cook County, according to University of Michigan’s National Registry of Exonerations.
Chicago also has paid out hundreds of millions in police misconduct and wrongful conviction settlements over the years, including a $14.25 million payout approved in May for Daniel Taylor, who spent 20 years in prison for murders he did not commit.
The Tribune also showed how the city is spending a ballooning amount on private attorneys fees to defend such litigation.
Pointing to that ignominious history, ACLU attorney Alexandra Block ripped Lightfoot’s comments in a statement to the Tribune’s Gregory Pratt.
“It is sad to see a highly trained lawyer and former prosecutor so badly mangle the meaning of our Constitution,” Block said. “A charge based solely on assertions of police often has proven unreliable in this city — as evidenced by the city’s history of paying large settlements for CPD’s role in wrongful convictions.”
Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell said the mayor knows the criminal justice system is not designed to decide guilty from the onset of a case.
“Chicago is the false confession capital of the nation. For decades, the city has shamefully disregarded the presumption of innocence — which applies to everyone, regardless of the charge against them,” Mitchell said. “As an attorney, the mayor knows that the criminal justice system is not designed to decide guilt early in a case. In fact, in the past year the Cook County Public Defender’s Office represented people in more than 11,000 cases that ended in dismissal or a finding of not guilty.”
Mitchell said putting increasing numbers of people in jail who are awaiting trial harms communities.
“Accused people who are jailed awaiting trial for just 72 hours are 2.5 times more likely to be unemployed one year later and 40% more likely to be rearrested in the future,” the top public defender said. “Judges upholding the rule of law are not the reason there is gun violence. Truly supporting people with sufficient resources in their communities is the only way to achieve safety.”
As backlash to her comment swelled, Lightfoot issued another statement late Monday reiterating that defendants are entitled to the presumption of innocence.
This isn’t the first time Lightfoot has called on Cook County’s criminal court to keep more people in jail during trial as the city struggles to drive down violent crime.
The mayor called for a temporary moratorium in electronic monitoring earlier this year, but Chief Judge Timothy Evans rejected that request, saying there is no evidence people out on bond are responsible for increases in crime. The Tribune showed that Lightfoot and police leaders often rely on flawed data to bolster their arguments for jailing more defendants.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart also have defended electronic monitoring, saying there’s little evidence that is the source of the city’s crime problems and there’s little evidence suggesting those defendants are committing more crimes pending their trials.
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