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A lesson in why tougher laws don’t always work

Thursday, Sep 29, 2016

* We have a good example in Champaign County about how this state can enact the strongest gun-crime laws in the country and everyone can still wind up shaking their heads in disbelief when a gun offender gets out of prison and almost immediately kills somebody.

The defendant in this case is Robbie Patton, who is wanted for the murder of one person and the wounding of three others in a now infamous shooting incident near the University of Illinois campus.

Patton was sent to a boot camp instead of prison and released after serving a combined 259 days in local jail and the camp

Although the Champaign County state’s attorney’s office objected to the 18-year-old being considered for the military-like alternative to imprisonment, Judge Tom Difanis recommended Patton for the program, formally known as Impact Incarceration.

“None of us have a crystal ball. By noting that we objected, I am not criticizing Judge Difanis. At this point, the responsibility for what happened Sunday is on Robbie Patton,” State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said. […]

Patton pleaded guilty in April before Difanis to aggravated discharge of a firearm, admitting that on Dec. 14, 2015, he fired a gun in the direction of a person in the parking lot of the Steak ’n Shake, 2010 N. Prospect Ave., C.

Probation is an option for that Class 1 felony, but Patton’s eight-year prison sentence was a result of a plea agreement negotiated by Assistant State’s Attorney Matt Banach and Patton’s Champaign attorney, Dan Jackson.

OK, wait. Eligibility for boot camp requires that sentences be no longer than 8 years. So, while the state’s attorney did publicly object to boot camp, her office negotiated a plea deal that made boot camp possible.

And, as a local article points out, “boot camp recommendations by Champaign County judges for first-time young adult offenders are common.” The state’s attorney’s office had to know that boot camp was a likely outcome of that deal.

* OK, let’s back up a second. Here’s an explanation of Patton’s original crime

Patton is thought to have fired a gun at two men in the parking lot of the restaurant about 5:30 p.m. on that Monday. Police said he and Antonio Wright were inside the restaurant when they were approached by two men who asked them to step outside.

They did, and Patton retrieved a gun from a sport utility vehicle and fired it at the other men. No one was hit.

Shooting at people in a crowded public area. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s pretty much exactly what Patton is being accused of now.

* Patton was also arrested just two days after being paroled

On Sept. 11 — two days after being granted parole — UI police arrested him for allegedly lying about his identity. A police report said Patton was a passenger in a car that police stopped about 1:15 a.m. that Sunday near Green and Locust streets for an alleged traffic violation.

Smelling cannabis emanating from the car, police had the driver, Tyren Mercier, 18, of Champaign, get out. He was later arrested and charged with possession with intent to deliver cocaine and possession of cocaine after police said they found individually wrapped packages of cocaine in his wallet. Patton was released from the county jail that same day after posting bond and was later charged with misdemeanor obstruction of identification.

Um, according to the circuit court clerk’s website, Patton was released without bond (click here and input the case number of 16CM000877). But, whatever. That’s neither here nor there, I suppose.

So, two weeks after he was released on parole, and days after he got out of jail for another offense, Patton allegedly killed one person and injured three more over an escalated argument about a spilled drink.

* I’m not saying we shouldn’t have tougher gun-crime laws. I’m solidly on record in favor of them. They’re needed. But prosecutors always have discretion to reduce charges to avoid triggering longer sentences. And they can also agree to let people out of jail without posting bond.

Changing laws won’t change those facts of legal life.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

30 Comments
  1. - northshore cynic - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 12:54 pm:

    Will the judge and the state’s atty. attend the funeral?


  2. - New Slang - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 1:06 pm:

    Let’s be clear: “criminal justice” done “right” is at best a tenuous jerk circle. Judges seen to be “tough” on crime clog the prisons (overpopulate). The polor opposite puts dangerous people back in the street. The DA said it best: bottom line is these are people killing people, not the judges, DA’s, etc. I know this sounds cliche, but so many of these offenders are not expecting to stay free or live long. They have no hope, no motivation, just a desire to behave in the moment. Becoming institutionalized, the mentality of these folks lacks a moral compass. This is where we are as a society today.


  3. - Ron Burgundy - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 1:06 pm:

    Well locking everyone up is not the answer, and not locking anyone up is not the answer either. As I’ve heard some judges say over the years, “I believe in second chances, I do not believe in third chances.” This guy appears to have blown his second chance in horrible fashion, and once he is caught deserves to be removed from society permanently upon conviction. Hindsight is 20/20 and cases like these keep judges and prosecutors up at night.


  4. - Cassandra - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 1:16 pm:

    I wish I could know more about Mr. Patton’s mental status. Did he have a diagnosis. Was he treated while in the corrections program he was in. Was there an aftercare plan. We know that correctional systems are becoming de facto mental hospitals and this guy sounds to me like he is truly disturbed. And we can’t expect either judges or SA’s or boot camp/prison personnel to be pyschiatrists.


  5. - CapnCrunch - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 1:16 pm:

    This guy aimed and fired a gun at another person in the parking lot of a popular restaurant at a busy time of the day.
    The bullet missed the intended target.
    He pleaded guilty[to aggravated discharge of a firearm] and received an eight-year prison sentence.
    He is instead sentenced by the judge to boot camp where he spends only 142 days.
    Two days after being released from camp he was arrested for allegedly lying to police.
    Sixteen days after his release he aims and fires a gun at another person. The bullet kills an innocent bystander.
    The State’s Attorney says the “…the responsibility for [the death of the bystander] is on [the shooter]”
    And we wonder how a buffoon like Trump might become our next president.


  6. - Ahoy! - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 1:22 pm:

    Boot camp for serious gun crimes (using it to fire at someone) seems a little soft to me, why is this even an option? Boot camp should be used for serious drug crimes, petty theft, shoplifting and other non-violent crimes.

    I really don’t know if we need additional laws or if judges and prosecutors just need to use some common sense, but in general, I think our country has a lot of apathy toward violent crime and gun violence. We lead the industrialized world in this and we really do very little about it on all ends of the spectrum.


  7. - Federalist - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 1:25 pm:

    @New Slang

    An excellent post!


  8. - Team Sleep - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 1:32 pm:

    This whole story is insane and the situation clearly could have been avoided. This was a gross failure by the prosecution and the judge.

    Capn - okay, but what does that have to do with this?!


  9. - striketoo - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 1:34 pm:

    “… We have a good example in Champaign County about how this state can enact the strongest gun-crime laws in the country…”

    The author of the above obviously has no idea about how Illinois gun laws compare to those of other states. In particular, if you are caught with an illegal gun it is a Class A misdemeanor, not a felony. In tough gun law states like New York, it is a felony. Every attempt to make it a felony in Illinois has been blocked by the Black Legislative Caucus who fear (rightly) that it will lead to more imprisoned black young men. The answer to the problem is to stop the immoral war on drugs which goes after victimless crimes and focus instead those who carry illegal weapons. The net result would be fewer black men in prison but the right ones.


  10. - Keyser Soze - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 1:41 pm:

    Legalize drugs and end this craziness.


  11. - train111 - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 1:47 pm:

    There is little ‘justice’ in the justice system. It is a very imperfect proposition at best. It is a long tortous process with an oftentimes dissapointing result.
    We as a society expect perfection from a system run by flawed people.


  12. - Matt Vernau - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 1:55 pm:

    The law morality and common sense should follow societies self interest. Back in July the Springfield paper reported 4 shootings in one night. A couple of fellows on the east side were shot at by unknown assailants they did not cooperate with police. Some one with a pellet gun in his or her car shot a man in the face. Some one shot his gun and managed to hit no known object and some one else whose name did not make the paper shot his girl friend in the butt when shooting at the fellow she was talking to. All these shooters are shooting under conditions where their life is not in danger and when they can’t know where the bullet fired will hit the ground and be safe. Bad karma should be inflicted on anybody who endangers another’s life. People with a history of stupidity should get more correction piled on them.


  13. - crazybleedingheart - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 2:10 pm:

    ==Every attempt to make it a felony in Illinois has been blocked by the Black Legislative Caucus.==

    Every word of this is false. I’m tired of reading it.

    Our penalties are ridiculously tough.

    Sentences are not the problem.


  14. - Slippin' Jimmy - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 2:20 pm:

    Black or white, there are solid reasons for convicted Felons not being in possession of any firearms. At the street level, police try to deal with this fact daily by the use of ” stop & frisk”.

    Obviously, few citizens enjoy being patted down or frisked but far fewer like being a victim of a gun crime.


  15. - Independent Retired Lawyer Journalist - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 2:21 pm:

    1. What is dangerous is allowing the tyrrany of the anecdote to drive policy.
    2. What is unsophisticated is expecting the criminal justice system to solve society’s problems. In the absence of a crystal ball, judges don’t know who will be the next killer. But a next killer there will be.
    3. Oh yeah. Isn’t Patton presumably innocent of the new charge? Just because the police arrest someone doesn’t mean they’re guilty.


  16. - crazybleedingheart - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 2:32 pm:

    How many times have you been publicly stopped and frisked in front of your community, Slippin’ Jimmy?

    Since you’re so sure this is a great plan, I need to know if you do your part.


  17. - blogman - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 2:59 pm:

    The real problem with boot camp is that the statistics have shown that it does not work. Blame that on the Department of Corrections because those who work in rehabilitation have known for years that the program is ineffective. The 8 years is to make the kid behave while in Boot Camp. Change is desperately needed there too!


  18. - Slippin' Jimmy - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 3:00 pm:

    @crazy- Respectfully decline to answer based upon the advise of my attorney.


  19. - striketoo - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 3:24 pm:

    “Our penalties are ridiculously tough.”

    Which is why the mayor and the current (and former) Chicago police chiefs have asked for unlawful use of a weapon to be raised from a Class A misdemeanor to a felony. Right.


  20. - Last Bull Moose - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 3:26 pm:

    Game Wardens have great stop and frisk powers. They can check for unauthorized weapons (pistol when bow hunting), make sure the weapons used are legal, that the catch is legal, and that you have the right paperwork. My complaint is not that I have been stopped and checked but that there are too few Wardens to enforce the laws and keep us safe. I occasionally hear the sound of a rifleshot when hunting deer. Rifle bullets travel too far and endanger the rest of us.


  21. - Mr. Smith - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 3:37 pm:

    Legit question #1: Why would ANYONE involved in a gun crime be eligible for boot camp?;

    Legit question #2: why did the States Attorney’s office approve an 8-year plea agreement, knowing that 8 years would make it eligible for boot camp consideration. It’s very true that they objected to the boot camp option - but a 9 or 10 year sentence would have rendered it a moot point.


  22. - crazybleedingheart - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 3:49 pm:

    No, striketoo, you’re still wrong. But if you truly believe the things Rahm Emanuel and his police chiefs tell the media, making your own errors of fact is the least of your problems.


  23. - CapnCrunch - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 4:11 pm:

    “Our penalties are ridiculously tough.”

    117 days in the county jail and 142 days in boot camp for trying to kill someone with a handgun is “ridiculously tough” ?


  24. - Gone, but not forgotten - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 4:30 pm:

    When an illegal gun is involved, the charges should be federal, with mandatory 10 years in prison. Thomson is now a federal prison and empty. Load it up with these offenders. Jobs for Illinois, and the streets may be a little safer. Thanks, Obama (and Durbin).


  25. - crazybleedingheart - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 5:02 pm:

    He was never charged with trying to kill someone with a handgun.


  26. - Chicagonk - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 5:25 pm:

    Such a sad story all around. I don’t understand how Madigan, Cullerton, and Rauner can sit there and do nothing.


  27. - Freezeup - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 7:35 pm:

    Last Bull Moose,

    Conservation police officers do not have any special exceptions from the 4th Amendment. They are the government and the Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable intrusions by the government.


  28. - Freezeup - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 7:43 pm:

    Stiff sentences do not lead to law and order. If you take away judges ability to sentence as they see fit, they will find procedural reasons to dismiss cases altogether. That leads to bad case law that makes it impossible to enforce the laws on the books. (Caballes anyone?)

    When judges do this baloney it also fosters an attitude by offenders that they have nothing to fear from the justice system so why wouldn’t they do as they please… The only consequence is a short jail stay before being released on a recog bond right after they promise to be good.

    If we gave gun felons half the minimum sentence but made them serve it we would all be better off.


  29. - NorthsideNoMore - Thursday, Sep 29, 16 @ 8:11 pm:

    Enforce the laws on the books. This one is on the judge and SAO.


  30. - Freezeup - Friday, Sep 30, 16 @ 8:01 am:

    NorthSideNomore-
    Most prosecutors want the harshest possible sentence. It’s what they do. Keep in mind that assistant states attorneys are in front of the same judges day after day. If you anger a judge or don’t go along with how he does things they can and will make your life very hard. I have known a lot of good people who became judges. It must be a difficult position and it usually changes that person and not usually for the better. It’s not usually very long before they take on the attitude that they sit at the right hand of God. Sorry that it is so harsh but it’s the best way I know to say it.

    Appellate court justices have the same syndrome x2.


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