Cook County DA Drops the Ball- Or Greases the Wheel


Em Carpenter

Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

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43 Responses

  1. Avatar North says:

    This fishing idiot; ugh!Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    My favorite moment was where the prosecuting office argued that they drop charges and decline to prosecute non-violent stuff like this all the time. (Like you pointed out.)

    And, *OF COURSE*, a handful of people said, paraphrased, “when?”

    And the prosecutors then had to dig to find examples of when they made “Alternative Prosecution” an option. Like, an internal email surfaced where the DA’s office requested examples of this so-called “Alternative Prosecution”.

    “We are looking for examples of cases, felony preferable, where we, in excersing [sic] our discretion, have entered into verbal agreements with defense attorneys to dismiss charges against an offender if certain conditions were met, such as the payment of restitution, completion of community service, completion of class, etc., but the defendant was not placed in a formal diversion program,” the email states.

    Don’t get me wrong: I am 100% down with the argument that we should have alternatives to prosecution.

    But if it presents identically to corruption, that creates larger problems.Report

  3. Avatar PD Shaw says:

    The prosecutor claims that this case was handled through alternate disposition. There are several alternative disposition programs, mostly involving drug crimes and encourage drug treatment. The closest is probably the Offender Initiative Program because it can take only 12 months to complete. Which gets to the point that alternative disposition means that you must do something to earn the reprieve, whether it be boot camp, drug treatment, job training, restitution and community service of at least 30 hours. Smollett didn’t do that, and the notion that this was handled in the normal course of business can’t be true.

    Probably mishandled, not corrupt, but this is Chicago. The State’s Attorney previously recused herself for unseemly contacts with politically influential people, it turns out she was lying. All she did was assign the case to an assistant as is done in any cases. So words like “alternate disposition” and “recuse” are being used to mislead, not inform. The case is sealed, so who knows?Report

  4. Avatar PD Shaw says:

    Also, the City of Chicago has demanded restitution for $130,106.15 in overtime charges spent investigation as a result of false statements to the police. That is an ordinance violation that the City can enforce itself; the County is solely authorized to prosecute criminal violations.Report

  5. Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

    The outrage of Rahm and the police would be a lot more credible if they hadn’t sat on the McDonald shooting video for a year before it was released. The city’s history is rife with preferential treatment for all sorts of people, most politically connected, or wearing a badge.

    Sure, the case stinks, but it’s not that unusual.Report

  6. Avatar Marchmaine says:

    On the silver lining side… those of us on the “Privilege is an ever expanding Pie” side of things, we enjoy the pie.Report

  7. Avatar InMD says:

    I don’t think the guy deserves severe criminal sanction for what he appears to have done and wouldn’t bat an eye at diversion. He exploited political and racial tensions for personal gain, and we’re lucky no one was actually harmed in the process. It’s outside the scope of what the criminal justice system does but it seems like a public apology is really what’s merited.

    Obviously this is me speaking as a human, not a lawyer.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to InMD says:

      This is what makes the “I did nothing wrong!” position into something that makes the case a *LOT* more interesting.

      “Should the brothers be charged with a Hate Crime?” is a somewhat interesting question…Report

      • Avatar InMD in reply to Jaybird says:

        And that’s exactly what I find distasteful. I don’t like draconian punishments and think it’s only justified in very rare circumstances. Not going to jail for something like this is NBD for me, it’s the not having to admit he was wrong that I see as a problem in the greater political context.Report

  8. Given where I live, I’ve heard a bit about this case, but by way of disclosure, I haven’t paid a huge amount of attention to it, and I didn’t follow the links Em provided. So, I’m speaking largely from ignorance….

    Why 16 felony counts? That seems excessive. I realize that it’s possible for something that strikes me as a quasi-interested layperson observer as one crime might really, truly be 16 separate crimes (or more). So in that sense I understand why. But in another sense, it seems like overkill.

    Another thing (tracking with what Slade the Leveler said above and partially with the sentiment InMD expressed above): If Smollett did what he’s accused of, then he probably should be prosecuted. It’s wrong to create a hoax because it drains city/county* resources that could be devoted elsewhere and because it minimizes real crimes. And yet, the city/county apparently looks the other way when cops allegedly shoot people unnecessarily. Or if it doesn’t look the other way, it hasn’t been willing or able to implement the changes necessary to respond effectively to those things happening. And the county’s institutions have had a really hard time ensuring a humane treatment of people in its jail. Add to all that the level of policing in communities, which is sometimes too much and too little, if what I hear is true, and I can understand and maybe even condone the city/county refusing to spend even more resources to prosecute Smollett.

    None of this is to say the situation is right. I can imagine a person who might do something less taxing against city/county resources and yet who doesn’t have the means to make a $10,000 bond or hire a good enough lawyer to get him a deal like this.

    *As PD Shaw mentions above, the county-level state’s attorney has sole authority to prosecute crimes. I’m lumping the city and county together as a way of talking about the whole apparatus of local government there because I don’t know enough to parse the different areas of responsibility. (And actually, there’s more than just city and county governments operating in northeast Illinois. There are other local governments and, I suppose, state and federal actors, too.)Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to gabriel conroy says:

      When I looked at the 16 count indictment a few weeks ago, I couldn’t tell the difference btw/ the counts offhand. Maybe there were 16 different false statements?

      It’s an interesting aspect though. The prosecutors worked-up a grand jury indictment a few weeks before dropping the case? And if they were leaning towards dropping the case, one count would have been fine. If they thought there were underlying credibility issues, those could have been presented to the grand jury. As it stands now, the grand jury found probable cause that he committed sixteen offenses, and a few weeks later the case was dropped. Heck, if they had concerns, they could have simply waited.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to PD Shaw says:

        It does smack of someone walking in and saying, “Drop it.”

        Perhaps we will find, in time, certain politicians had sizable donations made to their campaigns?Report

        • Avatar pillsy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          I think the, “Someone had connections,” argument is the most plausible one, but I’m not sure we can rule out, “Chicago law enforcement screwed something up in a way that would blow up in their faces.”

          While Smollet definitely seems like he’s a couple tacos short of a combination plate, that provides an alternative explanation for why he’d be so combative (or why his lawyers would be).Report

          • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to pillsy says:

            Let us stipulate that the PD mishandled evidence or something… there’s still a very strange disconnect about being combative about of possible procedural issue on something everyone in the room knows is a hoax? No?

            I’m also struggling to imagine a procedural issue that would be so egregious that it would lead me to keep playing the hoax rather than ditching the hoax in favor of the egregious procedural issue.

            Throw in Rahm Emanuel going public with the Police and we’re just trying to make the wind blow opposite the way the vane is pointing.

            If ever there was a case for a well rehearsed na-pology followed by a visit to a spa treatment center and a period of silence… this is it.Report

            • Avatar pillsy in reply to Marchmaine says:

              Let us stipulate that the PD mishandled evidence or something… there’s still a very strange disconnect about being combative about of possible procedural issue on something everyone in the room knows is a hoax?

              It would, unless the procedural shenanigans included overstating the strength of the case it was a hoax, or framing the guilty party as it were.Report

            • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Marchmaine says:

              I’m also struggling to imagine a procedural issue that would be so egregious that it would lead me to keep playing the hoax rather than ditching the hoax in favor of the egregious procedural issue.

              Dude is doing what is best for his career. He can’t pivot now without saying he’s a liar and misused some of the most important symbols of his community.Report

        • Avatar Mark in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          No one has to actually do something overt in order for someone to get special treatment. The machinery of the law enforcement system is quite sensitive to the clout that some have. To pick an old example, Ted Kennedy drove a car off a bridge resulting in a fatality without being charged with anything, or we can make a similar case about Laura Bush. A black kid with some small amount of crack would probably fare worse than the high school principal in the posting.
          I think that lessening the severity of punishment combined with more prosecutions might address these problems.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to PD Shaw says:

        When I looked at the 16 count indictment a few weeks ago, I couldn’t tell the difference btw/ the counts offhand. Maybe there were 16 different false statements?

        If this is how it works, it shouldn’t. I’m against people making false police reports as much as anyone, but a false police report is a single act, and should be a single crime, no matter the details of it. (Wh varying levels of severity, obviously.)

        It’s not repeated ‘false police reports’ if you keep up a single lie to multiple police, anymore than you are repeatedly trespassing if you walk down the boundary of a property and keep crossing the property line, or every single punch you throw at someone in a fight is a different charge of assault.

        You aren’t committing an entirely new crime just because you pause in committing a crime for a second! (What a strangely perverse incentive system.)

        The post here repeated ’16 felonies’ over and over and tries to make it seem like dropping them is a lot, but, uh, the dude did exactly one thing that should be a felony. Maybe two, because there was also a conspiracy. Maybe one or two others I can’t think of. But the fact it was somehow 16 felonies is itself a problem.Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DavidTC says:

          He also mailed that “bio-weapon” (actually crushed aspirin) letter to himself. And both false claims were publically announced to the media and social media. One assumes he obstructed the investigation(s) as well, and instructed his minions to do so as well. Perhaps he also paid them and mishandled that aspect too, i.e. officially lied to the bank and so on.

          He clearly has no problems doubling down on a bad hand.

          Having said that, it’s certainly possible 16 is a scary exaggeration since all this ended up in the media.Report

          • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Dark Matter says:

            Ah, I hadn’t heard about the fake bioweapon thing, just the fake police report about the assault.

            Sixteen charges still seem too high, but now it’s seeming like it’s only about twice too high instead of the eight times too high I was thinking. So I’m not going to worry about it being too high.

            …and now I’m a bit on the bandwagon with the people who say he got off too lightly.

            I mean, the justice system works here: He appears to be a complete moron and if he’s not ever going to do this again, the problem is basically solved. The point of the penal system is not to get payback, it’s to stop future offenses.

            The problem is we often don’t treat other criminals that way…we catch someone doing equally stupid stuff like breaking into a few cars and stealing their contents, something roughly the equivalent level of criminality or maybe even fewer felonies, and technically speaking less cost to society, and we send them to prison for six months.Report

            • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DavidTC says:

              The point of the penal system is not to get payback, it’s to stop future offenses.

              If he’s not fired, the system will be rewarding and encouraging something which should be punished.

              I think I’ve said on occasion that IMHO the system doesn’t really deal with false allegations seriously.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to gabriel conroy says:

      You do 16 crimes, and what do you get?Report

  9. Avatar Jaybird says:

    If comedians are an indicator, indicators are pointing down: