RESTORE JUSTICE ILLINOIS RESPONDS TO INACCURATE ATTACKS ON ILLINOIS’S NARROW CHANGE TO FELONY-MURDER RULE

For more information:
Jobi Cates
jcates@restorejustice.org

Alissa Rivera
arivera@restorejustice.org

February 9, 2022 – Chicago, Il.

In 2021, Illinois narrowly tailored its felony-murder rule. The necessary change only ensures someone is culpable for first-degree murder before they face our state’s harshest possible punishment. 

Today, Illinois House Republican members are holding a press conference to call for repeal of the SAFE-T Act and to mislead the public about the scope of the Act’s changes to the felony-murder rule.

FACTS

  • The SAFE-T Act did not abolish the felony-murder rule. 
  • The change brought Illinois into line with the majority of other states.
  • Under the current law, prosecutors may still charge people with felony murder in a variety of scenarios.
  • The SAFE-T Act only narrowed the scope of the felony-murder rule. It removes the possibility of charging a person with first-degree murder when the killing was committed by a third party (i.e. a store owner or a police officer).
  • Felony-murder is still a viable charge, and prosecutors can continue to use it to hold people accountable for deaths caused by themselves or other participants in the underlying felony.
  • Lesser – but still severe – charges are always available in cases where felony murder is not appropriate. Many of these charges include long prison sentences with no possibility of parole or early release due to rehabilitation.

Before the SAFE-T Act, Illinois had one of the broadest felony murder laws in the country. People were charged with first-degree murder when a police officer, store owner, or other third party killed someone. Some states don’t have felony-murder laws, and in the majority of those that do, people can only be held accountable for deaths they or their co-defendants cause. The SAFE-T Act moved Illinois into that category.

Under the current law, a person can be charged with murder when they or their co-defendant directly cause the death but not when a third party kills someone.

Charging people with felony-murder, which is first-degree murder and carries a minimum sentence of 20 years (45 years if a gun is used), is an overreach in cases in which a third party kills a co-defendant. People convicted of first-degree murder today must serve their entire sentences; Illinois does not offer time off for rehabilitation nor does it offer parole-for-release opportunities to people 21 and over convicted of murder. 

Long sentences do not deter crime. They continue to cause pain in the communities already torn apart by violence and over-incarceration. We need evidence-based responses to violence in Illinois’s communities. 

EXAMPLES: WHY REFORM WAS NEEDED

Jane (not her real name) was 18 years old when she was charged with felony murder. As part of a plea deal, she pled guilty, was convicted of double homicide, and then received a sentence of 50 years in prison with no chance for parole or time off for good behavior. Jane had been forced into sex work by older men. The older men used her to lure two other men into an apartment on the pretense of sex with Jane and another sex worker. Their plan was to rob the two men. One of the robbery victims escaped, and a chase ensued. During the chase, a police officer killed one of the alleged robbers (one of the men who had forced Jane into sex work). A bystander was also killed. During the shoot out, Jane was still in the apartment where the victims had been lured. Today, Jane is about 15 years into her 50-year sentence. Because Illinois does not have parole-for-release or possible “good time,” Jane must serve that entire 50 years. 

***

Four or five young people allegedly attempted to break into a store when the store owner fired several shots into the group, killing a 17-year-old. At least two of the young people, who, if police accounts are true, attempted to commit a burglary – not a murder – were charged with first-degree murder. 

***

Police chased a 20-year-old man accused of a burglary. A police vehicle crashed into a car, killing the driver. The victim’s friends and family members did not belive the 20-year-old should be charged with murder, but he is currently serving a 28-year prison sentence. He must serve that entire sentence. 

***

Restore Justice, which comprises Restore Justice Foundation and Restore Justice Illinois, works to address issues faced by those serving life or de-facto life sentences, their families, and their communities. Founded in 2015 by a dedicated group of advocates that included the late former Congressman, Federal Judge, and White House Counsel Abner Mikva, Restore Justice trains and supports advocates, conducts research, nurtures partnerships, and develops policy solutions that will roll back ineffective pro-punishment policies of the past, replacing them with compassionate, smart, and safe policies for the future.

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