ST. CHARLES TOWNSHIP – For the fifth year in a row in calendar year 2019, the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office has had a slight increase in felony filings, meaning a heavier workload for prosecutors, Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said.
Speaking at his monthly media briefing Tuesday, McMahon said a slight increase for one year or two years does not mean a significant impact on prosecutors’ workload – but five years is.
“We’re struggling with that. It’s a staffing issue,” McMahon said. “We’ll work with the County Board to address that. … If I had eight more assistants, they would be busy on their first day with a full caseload, just in criminal felony.”
McMahon said working with the County Board on the budget process is “give and take.”
“We don’t get everything that we want. But there is significant need for additional resources in criminal justice – not just my office, but … in the public defender’s office (and) probation, to really handle, appropriately, the volume of people that come through the system,” McMahon said.
“We spend a lot of time and resources on alternative prosecutions like our diversion program, to keep the Kane County jail population low and to address behavior as opposed to just punishment,” McMahon said.
And to do that, it takes time and experience to carry out objectives from lawmakers and his own objective as well, he said, to take people who may not a long-term threat to the public safety, and get them to change their behavior.
“It takes experienced prosecutors to do that,” McMahon said. “It takes lawyers who are not overwhelmed with caseloads to be able to drill into the facts of a case.”
McMahon said he has a total of 59 assistants in civil, juvenile, abuse and neglect, child support, criminal, traffic, DUI and domestic violence. More lawyers are needed in domestic violence and felony.
'Guns – they compound everything'
McMahon said over the last couple of years, the county has seen an increase in gun crimes and drug cases.
The county has had an increase in aggravated unlawful use of a weapon charges, where someone possesses a firearm outside of their home or business. The gun is loaded and accessible and they don’t have a concealed carry license or some other aggravating factor, he said.
“We’re seeing an increase in each of the last three years in the number of cases where we have charged aggravated unlawful use of weapon,” McMahon said.
In his 2019 annual report, there were 116 aggravated unlawful use of a weapon charges in 2017, increasing to 121 in 2018 and 128 in 2019.
“Guns – they compound everything,” McMahon said. “They compound what is otherwise a simple drug transaction into a deadly and fatal situation. They compound domestic situations into ... immediately a deadly situation. Last week on Friday night, there was a murder in Aurora that started as an emotionally-charged domestic issue. It ended up with a 16-year-old charged with first degree murder.”
McMahon said gun violence is an area his office has focused on with an aggressive approach. If someone is charged with a gun crime, it’s a mandatory prison sentence.
Heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamine
Regarding drug issues, McMahon said he is continuing to see a significant presence of cocaine and heroin. In the last 18 to 24 months, the county has seen and an increase of methamphetamine to about 5% of all its drug cases.
“Historically, we did not see a lot of meth in the area. It was a drug that was more prevalent in rural areas. It can be very inexpensive to manufacture,” McMahon said. “The state police crime lab, statewide and in the northern part of the state and the various police agencies have reported an increase in the amount of meth that is in (the) suburban area.”
As to heroin use, instead of heroin laced with fentanyl, they see fentanyl laced with heroin, McMahon said.
“The coroner reported 90 autopsies last year in which opioids were found in the deceased’s system,” McMahon said. “We are not out of the woods on this opioid epidemic. We have a lot of work to do. We have a ton of work to do. We have to find resources for people who are addicted to drugs before they come into the court system.”
The court system has a lot of resources for them, but McMahon said it seems to be a backwards process that someone has to be in the court system in order to get access to these services.
25th no refusal weekend
Also on March 14 and 15, the state’s attorney’s office will host its 25th no-refusal weekend since McMahon started it 10 years ago.
That means, those who are pulled over for suspected drunken driving and refuse to give a breath or blood sample will be faced with a search warrant that will compel it, McMahon said.
No-refusal operations have been held on different dates – such as St. Patrick’s Day, the Superbowl, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, he said.
“The biggest number of arrests has occurred on the St. Patrick’s Day celebration,” McMahon said.
“My goal is to get the word out and encourage people to take advantage of ride sharing services or taxicabs or (a) designated driver and hope we don’t have any arrests,” McMahon said. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Maybe I’ll get one of these no-refusals before I leave where we don’t have to arrest anybody. No arrests and no deaths – that’s a great night.”