Felony charges against Deerfield and Highland Park teenagers since early August has sparked intense discussion in those communities about what kind of consideration should be given to young people without past criminal history.
A prosecutor’s discretion has some effect on how these cases could progress through the courts and ultimately what kind of punishment the accused offenders could receive. The only certainty is Lake County will have a new state’s attorney after the Nov. election.
Long time Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Waller is not running for reelection. Lake County voters will choose either Democrat Chris Kennedy or Republican Mike Nerheim to replace Waller.
Josh Norris and Joseph Mahoney of Deerfield, both 17 at the time, were arrested August 3 for invading the Highland Park home with a gun where Jacob Lynn, 17, resides. Two weeks later Lynn was arrested for possession of Marijuana with intent to sell on facts arising from the earlier events.
Last month, Carly Rousso, 18, of Highland Park was charged with reckless homicide and other offenses in the Sept. 3 death of Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento, 5, also of Highland Park. If all four are convicted of all charges, Norris and Mahoney face significantly more prison time—over 100 years—than Lynn or Rousso.
Both Nerheim and Kennedy talked to Patch about the role of a prosecutor in situations like Rousso, Lynn, Mahoney and Norris Face. Both candidates made it clear they were talking only in generalities about potential situations.
“I want to make it clear I’m not talking about these cases or any specific case,” Kennedy said. Nerheim agrees.
State Law Dictates When a Minor Must Be Charged as an Adult
When it comes to charging a 17-year-old as an adult, the state’s attorney has little discretion. Both Kennedy and Nerheim made it clear state law requires that once a person becomes 17 and is charged with a felony they are considered an adult.
“If you charge someone 17 with a misdemeanor they are in the juvenile system,” Nerheim said. “If a 17-year-old person is charged with a felony they’re treated as an adult offender.
A number of Patch readers have questioned why crimes where no person was harmed like the offenses charged against Mahoney and Norris carry a potentially longer jail term than one resulting in loss of life like reckless homicide.
Both Nerheim and Kennedy explained the intent of the person charged with a crime is a determining factor in the length of a potential sentence. They also made it clear the Illinois General Assembly creates those laws, not the state’s attorney.
Intent Effects Severity of Charge
“Intent is a major factor,” Kennedy said. “Recklessness is determined to be less harmful than an intentional act. Just because a person enters someone else’s house with a gun doesn’t mean it’s not highly likely to cause harm.”
Nerheim would like to see stiffer penalties for people who harm or kill another when they are driving impaired. “A person who gets behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol or drugs knows what can happen (to another),” he said.
While a state’s attorney can only prosecute existing crimes, that person can lobby the legislature to make changes. “The state’s attorney would have the role as an advocate to improve criminal law and public safety,” Kennedy said. “I would appear before the legislature and advocate for improved laws. I’ve done that before.”
When it comes to going to Springfield to make changes, Nerheim shares Kennedy’s passion. “Absolutely,” Nerheim said when asked if he would lobby the general assembly. “It’s the job of a prosecutor.”