Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has dismissed more than 25,000 felony cases – including many involving charges of murder and other serious crimes – in her first three years on the job, a new report shows.
Foxx gained notoriety last year when she dropped felony charges against Jussie Smollett, the Empire actor accused of staging a racist, homophobic attack on himself in January 2019.
The Chicago Tribune on Monday published an analysis of Foxx’s overall record on dropping charges, revealing that she has done so at a rate that’s 35 percent higher than her predecessor.
In the first three years after Foxx took over as Cook County’s top prosecutor in 2016, her office dismissed all charges against 29.9 percent of felony defendants, the Tribune found.
By comparison, Foxx’s predecessor Anita Alvarez dropped charges against just 19.4 percent of felony defendants over her last three years in office.
A total of 25,183 defendants had their felony charges dismissed under Foxx up until November 2019, compared with 18,694 under Alvarez during a similar period, the Tribune said.
Foxx took over as state’s attorney in 2016 with a promise to bring criminal justice reform and to reduce the population of Cook County Jail.
The Democrat is now up for re-election in November after beating three challengers in a tight race that was one of the most expensive of its kind.
Foxx defended her case dismissal record in an interview with the Tribune prior to the publication of its analysis.
The newspaper reported that Foxx did not dispute the findings, but said that the high rate of dismissal gave an ‘incomplete picture of her commitment to keeping the public safe’.
‘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.’
Foxx asserted that her office has focused on dropping cases against low-level, nonviolent offenders – though the Tribune’s analysis paints a different picture.
It found that Foxx has consistently dismissed cases involving murder, shootings, sex crimes and serious drug offenses at a significantly higher rate than Alvarez did.
Foxx said she encourages assistant state’s attorneys in her office to openly discuss dismissing felony charges with cases that have legal problems.
She said fostering that kind of environment is important to her given Chicago’s record of wrongful convictions and police misconduct.
‘Recognizing the history that we’ve had around wrongful convictions, recognizing our ethical obligations as prosecutors … requires us to reinforce that people can, if they believe a case is flawed, bring it to our attention, and we will dismiss it if it’s appropriate,’ she said.
Foxx also said she is more selective about prosecuting the strongest, most winnable cases – though the Tribune’s analysis showed that her overall conviction rate (66 percent) is lower than Alvarez’s (75 percent).
Foxx drew intense criticism last year after she recused herself from the Smollett investigation and her office dismissed all 16 felony charges against the actor.
Though Foxx had removed herself from the investigation prior to the charges being dropped, questions remained about whether she acted improperly by speaking to a Smollett relative and aide to former first lady Michelle Obama before the dismissal.
Last summer a Cook County judge appointed a special prosecutor, former US Attorney Dan Webb, to investigate whether any misconduct occurred in Foxx’s office’s handling of the case.
Foxx denounced Webb’s appointment, saying that it was unnecessary to bring in a special prosecutor when the county’s inspector general was already looking into the case.
But Webb’s investigation proved very influential as it led to a grand jury indicting Smollett on new charges in February. Those charges, which were ridiculed by Foxx, are nearly identical to the ones her office dismissed.
Webb said that the decision to drop charges was unjustified in part because the evidence against Smollett seemed overwhelming and because he was not required to admit that the attack was a hoax.
The new charges threatened to bring down Foxx’s campaign for re-election as her opponents repeatedly used her perceived mistake as ammunition.
But Foxx overcame the opposition and won the Democratic nomination in March.
‘There was an effort to make this election about one big case involving a celebrity,’ she said in her victory speech. ‘The voters have overwhelmingly put that fallacy to rest.’
Webb’s determination on whether Foxx’s office engaged in misconduct in the Smollett case has yet to be released.
If it comes before the November election and contains damaging conclusions, Foxx could be facing another hard battle to keep her position.