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State’s Attorney won’t prosecute most ‘financial’ traffic cases

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx (pictured on March 15, 2017) faces a change in part of a harsh fiscal reality she has encountered since taking office earlier this year. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Starting this summer, Cook County prosecutors won’t take up traffic cases against drivers whose licenses have been suspended for a variety of “financial” reasons.

In a move intended to free up resources to handle more serious crimes, the State’s Attorney’s Office will no longer prosecute the thousands of cases involving motorists whose license suspensions related to circumstances such as failure to pay parking tickets, child support or other financial crimes.

Offenders who’ve lost their licenses for major traffic offenses, such as drunken driving or reckless homicide, will still face prosecution, but dropping less-serious cases will free up manpower to handle more urgent felonies, First Assistant State’s Attorney Eric Sussman said.

Social justice advocates have long pointed to traffic-related fees and fines as disproportionately harsh for poor drivers, who can quickly find themselves ensnared in a cycle of tickets, to suspended license to more tickets. But Sussman said the change is part of a harsh fiscal reality Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has encountered since taking office earlier this year.

“We are trying to shift as many resources as we can into the gun cases, the murder cases, the things that really impact public safety,” Sussman said.

Currently, the State’s Attorney’s office is staffed by 748 prosecutors, down from around 1,000 during the middle of the decade, Sussman said. The office would like to staff two prosecutors for a felony courtroom at the Markham courthouse, as well as add a prosecutor to a special unit working with Chicago Police in the 9th and 11th Districts, and continue to beef up the Conviction Integrity Unit.

The office has discussed the changes with police departments and municipalities around the county, and individual communities still would have the option to pursue charges. A spokeswoman for Chicago’s Law Department said city officials had discussed the change, but would not say what the city planned to do.