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Controversy Surrounds Illinois’ Felony Murder RuleFive teens have been charged with first-degree murder in Lake County for the death of another teen, despite the fact that none of them pulled the trigger on the gun that killed him. According to numerous reports, the six teens were allegedly attempting to burglarize a car at a private residence when the owner shot at them, killing one of them. The owner was licensed to carry the gun and claims he was acting in self-defense because he saw one of the teens move toward him with an unidentified object in his hand. The five teens are being charged as adults, although four of them are younger than 18. Prosecutors are allowed to charge the teens with first-degree murder because of Illinois’ controversial felony murder rule.

What Is Felony Murder?

Illinois law states that a death qualifies as a first-degree murder when a suspect:

  • Intended to kill or cause bodily harm to the victim;
  • Knew that their actions caused a great risk of death or bodily harm; or
  • Were committing or attempting to commit a forcible felony other than second-degree murder.

The third condition is known as the felony murder rule, in which a person committing a violent crime may be charged with first-degree murder without needing to prove that they intended harm to the victim.

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Illinois Court Overturns Law for Weapon Possession Near SchoolsIn the February case of People v. Chairez, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that a state law banning the possession of a weapon within 1,000 feet of a public park was unconstitutional. Parks were part of a list of public places that have such a ban, and the supreme court stated that its decision did not affect the other properties on the list. However, criminal defense professionals predicted that the decision could be used as a guideline for similar weapon possession cases involving the other protected properties. It did not take long for this to occur, as an Illinois appellate court recently ruled that the 1,000-foot weapon ban outside a school is also unconstitutional.

Case Details

In People v. Green, a high school teacher observed a man in a security uniform who was allegedly wearing a holstered gun and standing outside a van across the street from the school. An assistant principal walked across the street to ask the man who he was and express his safety concerns. The man identified himself as a security guard. The teacher called the police, reporting that there was a man with a gun near the school. When the police officer arrived, the man was seated in his vehicle, and his holster was empty. However, the officer found the gun and ammunition after searching the vehicle. The man was charged and later convicted of two counts of unlawful use of a weapon for possessing a loaded weapon on a public street and within a vehicle. Because the incident happened within 1,000 feet of a school, the conviction was a class 3 felony, and the man was sentenced to one year of probation.

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Is Proposed Carjacking Law Too Burdensome?Chicago area police departments are reporting an increase in carjacking incidents during the last two years, particularly amongst juvenile offenders. They believe that Illinois’ criminal laws are contributing to the problem because police often only have enough evidence to charge suspects with misdemeanor trespass to vehicle, instead of felony possession of a stolen motor vehicle. The suspects are usually released within 24 hours, which allegedly allows them to commit the crime again. The proposed legislation would make it easier for police to bring a felony charge against a suspect and detain juvenile suspects for longer periods. The Illinois Senate has already unanimously passed the bill. However, civil rights advocates fear the new law would lead to more felony charges against non-violent offenders.

Law Details

Whether a suspect is charged with vehicle trespass or possession of a stolen motor vehicle depends on whether police have any evidence that the suspect knew the vehicle was stolen. If there are witnesses to the theft, they may be unable to identify the offender because of how quickly the incident occurred or if the offender was wearing a mask. The new law would assume that a suspect is aware that a vehicle is stolen if:

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Illinois Lawmakers Consider Trying Young Adults in Juvenile CourtMembers of the Illinois House of Representatives have proposed legislation that would allow young adults to be tried in juvenile court. The bill would amend the Illinois Child and Family Services Act to change the definition of a delinquent minor:

  • Starting in 2019, a delinquent minor would include anyone who committed a misdemeanor before the age of 19; and
  • Starting in 2021, the age limit would expand to anyone who committed a misdemeanor before the age of 21.

Judges would be allowed to decide whether defendants ages 18 to 20 should appear before an adult or juvenile court. The goal of the legislation is to reduce the recidivism rate of younger offenders who may be legal adults but are still maturing mentally.

Benefits

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New Law to Assist in Reducing Prison PopulationThe Governor of Illinois recently signed into law Senate Bill 2872 which should assist in reducing the state's prison population, as well as implement programs to help make communities safer. Referred to as the Neighborhood Safety Act, the new law also includes recommendations offered by the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.

The state has recently enacted several criminal justice reform laws which all aim to reduce Illinois prison population by 25 percent by the year 2025. The Neighborhood Safety Act will help reach this goal by giving the courts more discretion when it comes to sentencing. Judges will now be able to sentence convicted defendants to probation instead of jail or prison when they feel the circumstances warrant that sentence.

There will also be more rehabilitative programs made available to inmates, such as life skills training, substance abuse programs, and career training. Supporters of the new law noted that many offenders are released from prison in worse shape than when they entered, often leading to a cycle of recidivism. Giving inmates the tools to successfully reenter society so they do not return to criminal activity will help decrease the prison population.

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