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SAFE-T Act Under Fire After Grand Jury Fails to Indict Man on Murder

The background is fairly simple. There is a controversial law on the books that allows the state to pursue first-degree murder charges against an individual who did not intend to commit the murder, but was in the process of committing some other forcible felony. As an example, if a man robs a liquor store and the clerk pulls a gun, the man cannot claim self-defense if he kills the clerk first. Instead, it is considered felony murder, the equivalent of first-degree murder. Makes complete sense, right?

Let’s move on to Alabama. You and a bunch of your friends are up to no good. Police spot you and tell you to stop. You do what kids do, and bolt. The police officer opens fire and kills your friend. You have now been charged with felony murder since fleeing law enforcement is considered a felony. Even though you did not pull the trigger, the law holds you responsible for the other teen’s death.

While the first situation makes complete sense, the second example is a gross perversion of the felony murder rule that is used to pin murder charges on mostly Black suspects. Hence, the felony murder rule is a target for police reformers who believe that the system is racist. 

What Happened?

Illinois has moved to repeal some provisions of the felony murder rule as a response to police reform. However, a recent grand jury decision not to indict a man has those opposed to the changes up in arms. 

According to a prosecutor, the grand jury decided not to indict a man who fired a weapon at another man but accidentally hit a third party who died of her injuries. The grand jury only indicted the man on weapons charges. 

What Really Happened?

The prosecution provided the jury with the ability to pursue charges on first-degree murder and weapons violations. They did not provide the jury with the ability to file second-degree murder charges. This was tactical. The grand jury, understanding the provisions of the law, refused to indict under a law that specifically prohibited that indictment. In other words, they did their job. The prosecutor threw up his hands and said, “Look at how bad this law is, a murderer is walking free! Our streets are less safe!” But that is exactly what they wanted.

Had the prosecutor pursued second-degree murder or reckless homicide charges against the man, they would have had their indictment. Because they did not, they can now raise an alarm in the papers about how screwed up the new rule is. 

In fact, the defendant will face 14 years without the possibility of parole for the incident. Had the prosecution pursued second-degree murder, attempted murder, or felony homicide charges, they could have added another 10 to 30 years to his sentence. Because they demanded the jury indict on first-degree murder charges, however, they get to yell and scream about how the police reforms are making us less safe. 

Meanwhile, the public gets to see if the defendant’s aim improves in another 14 years.

Talk to a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with murder in Illinois, call Chicago criminal defense attorney David Freidberg today at (312) 560-7100 and we can begin preparing your defense immediately. 

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