Thursday, March 8, 2012

Is getting something rather than nothing really called justice?

The U.S Department of Justice reports that nearly 1 in 5 women will fall victim of attempted or actual sexual assault during their time in college. That being said, why are written reports rarely ending in arrest? The most startling finds show prosecutors pursuing misdemeanor convictions instead of felony convictions even when the same evidence is used.  The Webster’s dictionary definition of justice is defined as a “merited reward or punishment due to one’s conduct or motives”. So is it really justice to pursue the misdemeanor charge or should prosecutors take the sure conviction over the more serious one, granted that the evidence warrants the more serious conviction?

In the case of a female Cook County college student, a written report was made with Chicago State police after abrasions found on her body matched allegations of sexual assault, a rigorous 36 hour investigation of the crime scene was done, the victim was administered a DNA evidence kit at the hospital she was taken to, and a line up was created to identify the suspect by the victim and other witnesses. After all that, the Cook County prosecutor refused to file felony charges and instead filed misdemeanor battery. Lazarrick Chambers was found guilty four months after the attack and sentenced to 250 days in jail. His rap sheet of priors before the attack consisted of theft, drug possession and public indecency. The victim feels prosecutors didn’t take the case seriously enough and that Chambers should have been prosecuted with felony charges.
I know that the article lacks the full story of the evidence, such as the results of the DNA test, the line up and witness testimony, but it is still a strong example of my question. That question again being, should prosecutors pursue the most serious offense or the highest probability of conviction?

In the interest of overgeneralization let’s keep this question narrowed down to sexual assault cases. In my opinion, prosecutors should be aiming for the most serious offense that the evidence warrants. If prosecutors have the option of the 50-50 felony conviction and the sure thing misdemeanor I’d hope they pursue the felony charge. This may contradict current practices, but if you look at this issue from public safety standard prosecutors aren’t doing the public any favors by tacking on another misdemeanor. Public safety dictates that the criminal be isolated from the public to insure the public’s safety.

In the article, I suspect that Chambers got the majority of his jail time from the history of priors he held, not from the most recent misdemeanor battery charge.  I’d like to see a prosecutor not care about his/her own conviction rate and pursue tirelessly for a conviction that fits a preponderance of the evidence. I’d like to see this more than the counterpart that develops a quick plea down in severity to move the case out of the system. I realize that when you swing for the fences in baseball you don’ always make it, and that is also true about taking that 50-50 felony case. I acknowledge that sometimes even a good prosecutor loses and a seemingly guilty man walks. I can’t argue that when a man walks in this manor it can be seen as an injustice in and of itself. That being said, the victim in the Chalmers’ case wanted to see justice being dealt to the fullest. What she got was a watered down version of justice, a quick look by prosecutors and a misdemeanor case. The system is essentially doing the same to our public safety. So the suspect gets a misdemeanor conviction. The suspect will be back on the streets with fines and time an opportunity to assault again. My call to prosecutors is if you’re going to do the job do it right.

To Chalmers’ victim, what she experienced in her testimony was not a misdemeanor assault. The definition of misdemeanor assault charge in her case is a lie. It’s like telling a story and leaving out the plot; She didn’t feel like she was given justice. Her story is one of many on college campuses. Do you really think her and so many like her find justice in some conviction rather than nothing?  


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