On December 5, 2023, the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender filed an amicus brief in the Illinois Supreme Court case of People v. Gray, which addresses whether a past adult criminal conviction that would today be handled in juvenile court can serve as a predicate offense for purposes of charging someone under the armed habitual criminal statute. The Court’s decision in this case will inevitably impact thousands of the Office’s clients annually who are accused simply of possessing guns without the proper licenses and prosecuted under this criminal offense.
Gun possession is the third most common charge leading to incarceration in the Illinois Department of Corrections, and Cook County accounts for more than 40% of those sentences. A third of all Class 4 unlawful possession of a weapon charges originate in 11 Chicago neighborhoods, and a quarter of the felony cases the office handles are charges of illegally possessing a gun.
Cook County public defenders represent not only people accused of gun crimes, but also impacted by gun violence. Through this amicus brief, the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender offers the Illinois Supreme Court with a perspective on this appeal that reflects the experience and institutional knowledge of the hundreds of attorneys who work each day to support clients who are overwhelmingly part of the communities most hurt by both gun violence and by enforcement of gun possession laws.
As the country awaited the Supreme Court’s first decision on the Second Amendment in more than a decade, in N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, Public Defender Sharone R. Mitchell, Jr., told The New York Times that effective measures to reduce gun violence in our neighborhoods, such as assault-weapon bans and sensible licensing efforts, are needed to stem the tide of violence, but breaking up lives and communities through incarceration has failed to rid our streets of guns. Enforcement of gun laws meant to protect the public has decimated communities, particularly Black communities in the City of Chicago.
The amicus brief was drafted by Legal Resources Division Assistant Public Defender Ross “Ari” Holberg with research and editing assistance from Directors of Legislative and External Affairs Patricia Jjemba and Rory McHale.