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Duchnowski: When the victims aren’t so innocent

Published: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

It’s easy to feel sorry for the family who lost a loved one in a drunken driving crash.

It’s less easy to feel sorry for alleged crime victims who aren’t exactly innocent themselves. But the less-than-innocent often are victims or witnesses to serious crimes, leaving police and prosecutors to sort out the mess.

Take, for instance, the Sycamore teens accused of holding a knife to a Sycamore man’s throat to steal $100 worth of marijuana about 12:30 p.m. July 3. Sycamore police arrested Tanner Young, 17, of the 1500 block of Woodgate Drive, and Jeremy Schwiesow, 19, of the 1300 block of John Street. They face armed robbery charges. The alleged drug dealer ... was not arrested.

According to a police report, Schwiesow never intended to pay for the quarter-ounce of marijuana, but arranged the purchase and had Young hide in the back of his red Pontiac Vibe with a knife. The dealer/victim sat in the front passenger seat, and once Schwiesow had the marijuana, Schwiesow gave a signal and Young held the knife to the dealer’s throat, police said.

The two-page police synopsis does not mention what ultimately happened to the pot, but police retrieved the knife allegedly used in the robbery from Schwiesow’s father’s dresser drawer. The dealer gave police the description of the vehicle and the two suspects’ names; both the suspects talked with police after acknowledging their Miranda rights, court records show.

I received an email from a reader wondering whether the dealer was found and arrested, as the reader believes the dealer belongs in prison and the two suspects need help.

The answer: Sycamore police had little trouble finding the dealer, but they decided the people suspected of armed robbery were the ones to pursue.

Sycamore Police Lt. Darrell Johnson said police have to consider physical evidence, potential court challenges, witness credibility and the seriousness of the crime and violence involved when pursuing criminal charges.

“If there’s someone violent enough to rip off ... a drug dealer or a law-abiding citizen, you still want to make a case against the most violent offender,” Johnson said.

Police and prosecutors make these types of judgment calls as often as many of us decide whether we want cream and sugar in our morning coffee, said Marc Falkoff, an associate law professor at Northern Illinois University.

“It’s clearly within the prosecutors’ discretion whether to bring charges against someone,” Falkoff said. “It happens all the time that police witness someone engaging in criminal behavior and choose not to initiate the full criminal justice system.”

Indeed, consider the case of Lamern Craig, a 26-year-old DeKalb woman accused of slashing a 22-year-old DeKalb woman in the chest with a box cutter during a fight April 8. The victim smashed a window on Craig’s car before going to the hospital to get 16 stitches. The victim wasn’t charged; Craig faces aggravated battery charges.

Or consider the case of Reema “Nicki” Bajaj, the 27-year-old attorney who is facing possible ethics sanctions after pleading guilty to misdemeanor prostitution. The ethics complaint names two men she met through an adult website who paid her for sex dozens of times, records show. Neither man was criminally charged, while Bajaj was sentenced to two years of court supervision, which means no conviction will go on her record if she successfully completes the term.

A casual onlooker could question whether police really used their discretion in the best way possible in any of those cases, especially considering the long-term consequences an arrest can have. In Bajaj’s case, authorities probably needed testimony from one or both of the men to put the emails and photographs involving Bajaj in the proper context, but did the punishment she received, both inside and outside the courtroom, really fit the crime?

In the end, it’s a question of who poses the bigger threat to public safety. And, as Falkoff asked me, do we want victims of violent crime to fear calling police because they also did something illegal?

The next questions will be settled in court, where defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

• Jillian Duchnowski is the Daily Chronicle’s news editor. Reach her at 815-756-4841, ext. 2221, or email jduchnowski@shawmedia.com.

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