Chicago mayor says people charged with violent crimes ‘are guilty,’ should be denied bail

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said violent suspects charged by states' attorneys on a “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” standard shouldn't be released.

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said individuals charged with violent crimes should be denied bail because they are guilty, drawing criticism from the Cook County public defender’s office and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, The Chicago Tribune reported.

Speaking at a press conference Monday at St. Sabina Church, Lightfoot maintained that allowing violent offenders — who she said are charged by states’ attorneys on a “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” standard — out on bond has a negative impact on the community at large.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (above) has come under fire for saying individuals charged with violent crimes should be denied bail because they “are guilty.” (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“If we hold violent, dangerous people accountable, we will see a significant drop in the violence in our city,” Lightfoot said. “But when you’ve got somebody who’s accused of murder, attempted murder, rape, kidnapping, carjacking, as is now, these people are walking the streets right now today in our communities because our criminal courts are not doing their job and taking into consideration the danger to the community.” 

The Tribune characterized Lightfoot’s comments as “noteworthy” because of the presumption of innocence in the law and a pattern of Chicago Police misconduct that led to wrongful convictions over the years.

The office of the Cook County Public Defender, which has been at odds with Lightfoot since she took oath in 2019, remarked on the city’s notorious history with false confessions.

“Chicago is the false confession capital of the nation,” read a statement from PD Sharone Mitchell’s office obtained by The Tribune. “For decades the city has shamefully disregarded the presumption of innocence — which applies to everyone, regardless of the charge against them.”

The statement further asserted that Lightfoot knows better.

“As an attorney, the mayor knows that the criminal justice system is not designed to decide guilt early in a case,” it contended. “In fact, in the past year the Cook County public defender’s office represented people in more than 11,000 cases that ended in dismissal or a finding of not guilty.”

Alexandra Block, senior supervising attorney of the ACLU of Illinois, also expressed concerns about such sentiments coming from a colleague. She called it “sad to see a highly-trained lawyer and former prosecutor so badly mangle the meaning of our Constitution,” according to her statement, The Tribune reported.

Block said she found it “most troubling” that Lightfoot has continued to attack bail reform. “Individuals who have not been convicted of a crime are constitutionally entitled to an individualized determination about whether they can safely be released to the community,” her statement read. “Bail reform returns people to their homes and jobs, allowing individuals and families to remain afloat.”

“Seeking easy answers to political pressures about gun violence, the mayor has repeatedly attacked bail reform, often with phony data,” Block continued. “Mayor Lightfoot would be best served turning her energies to implementing real change in CPD and building relationships with community — essential steps for effective policing. Instead of searching for real solutions, she constantly searches for a scapegoat — whether it is the courts or youth across the city.”

The mayor made the comments about bail during the press conference in response to a question about three policemen who were shot in separate incidents in the last week. Lightfoot cited a lack of accountability by the courts, the Tribune reports.

When Chicago saw a major increase in crime in 2020 and 2021, Lightfoot blamed the pandemic, as well as the courts and the state attorney’s office for being too soft on crime, the Tribune reported.

Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans has said holding certain individuals without bail is prudent, The Tribune notes, but he insists the practice must be used with caution.

“Pretrial detention serves a legitimate purpose, preventing the serious risk of committing crimes while on pretrial release,” Evans said in January. “Its purpose is not, however, to punish preemptively, by depriving people of their liberty for crimes for which they have not yet been convicted.”

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