Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Sunday touted legislation, drafted by policymakers in his office, intended to close a loophole that often allows carjackers, many of them juveniles, to receive a slap on the wrist and go free or escape justice altogether.
To obtain felony charges against a carjacker, current legislation requires authorities to prove someone caught in a stolen vehicle knew that the vehicle was stolen.
It’s a difficult task that often results in misdemeanor charges. At a news conference at police headquarters on Sunday, Emanuel argued that creates a revolving door in the justice system for such offenders who do not fear punishment.
The proposed legislation would change the standard used to file felony charges to whether the vehicle owner gave permission to the driver to be behind the wheel.
Emanuel called the current law “a weak link in the criminal justice system” and “a giant loophole” that criminals knowingly exploit.
“We have a problem. We are sending a message to carjackers and people who are stealing cars that they have a permission slip,” said Emanuel, who was flanked by local and state lawmakers.
A felony charge decreases the odds someone will be released shortly after arrest, proponents of the bill said.
The catch-and-release effect of the current law came under a microscope last week after a 15-year-old boy was arrested for carjacking, only to be released and arrested for the same crime less than 48 hours later.
Asked how a judge’s discretion, especially in the juvenile system, might effect meaningful punishment and deterrence intended by the bill, Emanuel stepped away from the microphone and let Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson speak.
“We absolutely need our judicial partners to step up to the plate to hold these individuals accountable,” he said.
“The goal is not to mass incarcerate people, that’s not what we want to do. What we want to do is create a mental culture of accountability so they won’t want to steal someone’s vehicle,” Johnson said.
Emanuel said he had spoken to House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago), House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs), and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), about the bill and they were “very interested in moving the legislation.”
The proposed bill was filed Friday in both the Illinois House and Senate. Emanuel’s allies in the General Assembly sponsored the legislation.
A spike in carjackings over the last two years has turned the issue into a political football in the run-up to Chicago’s 2019 mayoral election.