Posted on August 11, 2020

Kim Foxx Drops More Felony Cases as Cook County State’s Attorney Than Her Predecessor, Tribune Analysis Shows

David Jackson et al., Chicago Tribune, August 11, 2020

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is dropping felony cases involving charges of murder and other serious offenses at a higher rate than her predecessor, according to a Tribune analysis that comes amid a growing debate over criminal justice reform.

During Foxx’s first three years as the county’s top prosecutor, her office dropped all charges against 29.9% of felony defendants, a dramatic increase over her predecessor, the Tribune found. For the last three years of Anita Alvarez’s tenure, the rate was 19.4%.

In all, a total of 25,183 people had their felony cases dismissed under Foxx through November 2019, up from 18,694 for a similar period under Alvarez.

Foxx, a Democrat, swept into the state’s attorney’s office in 2016 vowing to reform the criminal justice system and reduce the population of Cook County Jail, which disproportionately holds low-income people of color. She is up for reelection in November.


“It is always eye-opening to be able to look at our own data and compare it to my predecessor’s past,” Foxx said. “I can’t reconcile what her decision-making was, and how they chose to (dismiss) cases in the past. But I will say that this administration has been clear that our focus would be on violent crime and making sure that our resources and attention would go to addressing violent crime.”

However, the Tribune found that Foxx’s higher rates of dropped cases included people accused of murder, shooting another person, sex crimes, and attacks on police officers — as well as serious drug offenses that for decades have driven much of Chicago’s street violence.

For the three-year period analyzed, Foxx’s office dropped 8.1% of homicide cases, compared with 5.3% under Alvarez, the Tribune found. Under Foxx, the office dropped 9.5% of felony sex crime cases; the rate was 6.5% for Alvarez.

Foxx’s office also increased the rate of dropped cases for aggravated battery and for aggravated battery with a firearm. And under Foxx, the percentage of cases dropped for defendants accused of aggravated battery of a police officer more than doubled, from 3.9% to 8.1%.

Foxx said she has tried to create an office culture where assistant state’s attorneys can openly discuss dropping felony charges if a case has legal problems, pointing to wrongful convictions that have occurred over the years and the dark history of Chicago police detectives torturing people of color to gain false confessions.


The most well-known case where Foxx’s office dropped all felony charges was that of “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who had been accused of staging a racist and homophobic attack on himself in downtown Chicago. Prosecutors in 2019 moved to dismiss all 16 felony counts against Smollett. {snip}

A Cook County judge last summer appointed former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb as a special prosecutor to investigate whether there was any misconduct in the way Foxx’s office handled the allegations against Smollett. In February a grand jury indicted Smollett on new charges, making allegations nearly identical to the charges dropped by Foxx’s office.

Webb has said he will issue a final report to the court and to the Cook County Board of Commissioners, although no date has been specified. Foxx had opposed the appointment of a special prosecutor, saying it would duplicate the work of the county’s inspector general, who was already looking into the Smollett case.


Defendants often face multiple charges in a single case, and it’s common for prosecutors to drop some of the charges before and even during a trial. The Tribune wanted to determine how often the state’s attorney’s office dismissed all charges; the analysis was ultimately based on the cases of about 287,000 defendants.


In her interview, Foxx stressed that she brings a reform-minded philosophy about what constitutes justice and how the resources of her office should be applied. Foxx said she is more selective about prosecuting the strongest, winnable cases.

But the Tribune found that Alvarez actually had a higher overall conviction rate.

Of the felony cases that have been concluded, Alvarez’s office won convictions in 75% during her last three years in office, according to the Tribune’s analysis, higher than Foxx’s 66% in the first three years of her term.


In the felony data, narcotics defendants account for about 40% of all criminal cases handled by prosecutors. Foxx has long argued that enforcement of drug offenses disproportionately affects communities of color and that nonviolent drug users are better served outside the criminal justice system.

Indeed, the Tribune found that Foxx’s office dropped more than half of all felony narcotics cases, compared with just over a third for Alvarez.

But the disparity in dismissed cases was especially acute among people charged with the most serious drug crimes — trafficking and other drug manufacturing and delivering offenses categorized as Class X felonies, the most serious class of felony other than murder. Foxx’s office dropped 1 out of every 4 of those Class X drug cases, compared with about 1 out of 9 for Alvarez.


The Tribune’s findings add a new element to the debate over criminal justice reforms and public safety in Chicago, which has seen far more killings in 2020 than the more populous cities of New York and Los Angeles.

As of Aug. 2, the number of people killed in Chicago had hit 450, up 55% from 291 by the same date the previous year. Shootings were up 48%, jumping from 1,220 to 1,804, according to Chicago police numbers.

Foxx said her policies have not led to the recent spike in violent crime, which she noted occurred during a pandemic and time of civil unrest, and that other big cities also have seen increases.

“The fact that we’ve had three years of my policies that have been put in place and over the three years we did not see an increase in violent crime would suggest to me that … that is not a logical outcome,” she said.


Among the actions she has taken as state’s attorney: not prosecuting people for nonviolent offenses such as minor traffic offenses for failing to pay tickets, declining to prosecute shoplifting as a felony if the stolen merchandise was worth less than $1,000, and diverting drug defendants to treatment and counseling programs instead of prosecuting them on criminal charges.