CHICAGO - A Chicago-area judge rejected a request from Mayor Lori Lightfoot to halt electronic monitoring for accused violent offenders, allowing those charged with dangerous crimes to return to the streets.
Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans said Tuesday that granting the requested moratorium on electronic monitoring would have violated both the U.S. and state constitutions and would deem defendants "considered guilty until proven innocent," the Chicago Sun Times reported.
In a letter addressed to the judge on Dec. 29, Lightfoot had requested the moratorium on electronic monitoring for all offenders where "the lead charge is murder, attempted murder, aggravated gun possession, felons in possession, sex crimes, illegal gun possession, vehicular carjacking, kidnapping or attempted kidnapping or other crimes of violence.
The mayor noted that 3,400 defendants are currently on electronic monitoring. Of that amount, 2,300 face charges for a "crime of violence," including 90 murder suspects. Lightfoot stressed that others are accused of offenses that include carjacking and possession of a weapon by a felon.
"I must continue to sound the alarm about the growing number of pre-trial offenders released back to the communities in Chicago on electronic monitoring," Lightfoot wrote. "The ballooning number of violent and dangerous people on EM is one of those drivers as they impact the communities to which the return in multiple, harmful ways."
The mayor cited Chicago police records that indicate 130 people were arrested while they were on electronic monitoring for a "violent offense." In his response, Evans countered that those 130 represent less than 1% of all cases that include a charge for a violent or weapons-related offense.
"A judge cannot hold someone pretrial without a finding that the defendant poses a real and present threat to the physical safety of any person. This must be found by clear and convincing evidence and the burden of proof is on the prosecution," Evans said in a statement. "The mayor’s proposal seems to require that defendants facing certain allegations be considered guilty until proven innocent."
As of mid-year 2021, there were 3,599 defendants out on electronic monitoring in Cook County, showing an increase of about 1,400 from 2017 levels, according to data from Evans’ office.
Evans issued a mandate in 2017 for judges to reduce the number of inmates in Cook County Jail awaiting trial by granting more affordable bail amounts and increasing recognizance bonds and electronic monitoring, the Sun-Times reported. The number of people on electronic monitoring continued to increase in 2020 when officials sought to reduce the jail population to combat the spread of COVID-19.
A 2020 report by Loyal University indicted that 80% of offenders were not arrested on while out on bond and just 3% were rearrested for a violent offense.
Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell argued that most defendants on electronic monitoring are not arrested again and show up to attend their court hearings.
"The mayor has proposed detaining people based on accusations. That is unconstitutional. We must have a hearing to examine whether a person should be held," Mitchell said. "The notion that folks are innocent until proven guilty is not a dusty legal precedent. This fundamental right exists because our system gets it wrong all the time. Being arrested for something does not mean someone is guilty."
Lightfoot joined Chicago police Supt. David Brown for a press conference Tuesday to discuss the department's plan in addressing pervasive violence and public safety goals for 2022. Chicago reached about 800 homicides by the end of 2021, the highest seen citywide in 25 years.
Brown said Tuesday strategies for 2022 included increasing the number of homicide detectives by 200 to improve their clearance rate. That will add on to the already 100 new detectives who have graduated from detective school, and the goal is to reach 1300 detectives department wide, Brown said.
2021 closed out with more than 12,000 firearms recovered off the streets of Chicago, he added.
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