A Case Study In Chicago's Failing Criminal Justice System

AP Photo/Teresa Crawford

Now, this isn’t a problem that’s unique to Chicago, but the case of Brian Washington is a perfect example of the issues in many big city criminal justice systems; a repeat offender who’s regularly given plea bargains and light sentences instead of real consequences for violent crimes.

Washington was in a Cook County courtroom last Friday for a bond hearing after police had allegedly found him in possession of a pistol modified to shoot full-auto. Prosecutors asked the judge to keep Washington behind bars without bond, given his extensive criminal history, but Judge Arthur Willis pointed out that despite Washington’s repeated run-ins with the law, he’s never actually been convicted of a crime involving a weapon, though he’s been arrested on those charges several times over the past ten years.

When Brian Washington was convicted of robbery and felony-level traffic violations at the age of 14, a judge put him on probation until his 18th birthday.

Exactly two days after Washington turned 18, on November 13, 2016, someone carjacked a driver in Englewood. Police arrested Washington the next day as he allegedly drove the hijacked car. Prosecutors charged him with criminal trespass to a vehicle. They eventually struck a plea deal in which he received one year of probation for a traffic charge.

That didn’t go so well.

In March 2017, four months after he turned 18, Washington was charged with residential burglary. Prosecutors said he was one of four men who stole televisions, gaming systems, audio equipment, and computer equipment from the victim’s home. The home was one block from where the carjacking took place in November.

While that case was still pending, Washington got arrested again — for armed carjacking.

Prosecutors said he and another man confronted a woman after she scraped snow off her car. Washington went through the woman’s car looking for valuables while the accomplice pointed a gun at her, according to the allegations. The woman cowered with her head between the front seats as the men went about their business.

They eventually ordered her out of the vehicle, and the accomplice made her kneel in the snow at gunpoint. Washington and the other man then drove away with her car.

Prosecutors charged him with aggravated vehicular hijacking with a firearm and armed robbery with a firearm. But they pleaded all of that down to plain old robbery in a deal that resulted in Washington receiving three-year sentences for the burglary and the robbery.

Washington reported to Stateville Correctional Center on February 13 last year. The state applied its standard 50% sentence reduction for good behavior and then gave him credit for time spent in custody before he pleaded guilty. He went home from prison on the same day he arrived, records show.

Because the state hasn’t treated Washington seriously in the past, the judge had an excuse to release Washington for his alleged possession of a firearm as a convicted felon, and he ended up approving a $50,000 bond. The judge did, however, order Washington held without bail on a Department of Corrections warrant, but having seen the lackadaisical response from the state regarding Washington’s previous convictions, I’m not holding my breath that he’ll be going back to prison for violating the terms of his early release.

Honestly, I’m having a hard time understanding why Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx hasn’t handed this case over to the U.S. Attorney for prosecution. As a convicted felon, Washington would face a minimum of five years in federal prison if he’s convicted of possessing a firearm, and if prosecutors are able to prove that Washington was in possession of a gun illegally modified to shoot full-auto, he could be looking at an additional ten years behind bars. Instead of getting tough on Brian Washington, however, I fully expect him to be offered yet another plea deal that will allow him to skate on his most serious charges.

Illinois’ gun control laws are undoubtably having an impact, but not on guys like Washington. Instead its the law-abiding who are most effected; told that they could face criminal charges for even having a gun in their home without a state-mandated FIrearms Owner ID card while having to wait for a year or more for the state police to get around to processing their application. But while law-abiding citizens are being deprived of their right to keep and bear arms, Chicago’s criminals are getting a pass or a slap on the wrist, even when they’re accused of heinous crimes like armed carjacking. It sure looks like the criminals are paying attention, with carjackings in Chicago up 650% compared to October of 2019.

Chicago’s criminal justice system desperately needs a reset, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. The status quo will remain in place, and that means armed criminals will not remain behind bars for long, even with a lengthy criminal history or even a guilty plea to reduced charges.