An Illinois state legislator is trying to change the law that allows prosecutors to charge defendants with first-degree murder even if they didn’t kill anyone. The sponsor, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, says Illinois’ current felony murder law can result in long prison terms and violent offender labels for people who didn’t actually engage in violence.
“We cannot reduce the prison population and control costs if we don’t address violent offenders. So a good place to start there is violent offenders who have not actually done violence,” said Slaughter.
Slaughter’s bill would change the felony murder law, so it only applies to someone that “personally causes the death of an individual” while committing certain felonies or a person committing a felony with others who knows that another person in the group would act in a way that would cause death or great harm.
DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin is president of the Illinois State’s Attorney Association and says he hasn’t talked to his membership about the bill, but he personally opposes the change.
To explain the current law, Berlin used what he said is the classic law school example: three people plan to rob a bank, one stays outside as a getaway driver, another is a lookout, and the third person goes inside the bank. Under the current law, if the person inside fatally shoots a teller, all three people can be charged with murder, even if the shooting was not part of the plan.
“To limit the law to only the principal in a felony means violent offenders will escape the full consequences for their actions. And as a result, the public will pay a heavy price in terms of public safety,” said Berlin.