Jaquan Swopes, 14, was killed during a botched car theft in Lake County last month.
According to the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office, Swopes and five other Chicago teens were attempting to steal a car owned by a 75-year-old Lake County man. The man confronted the teens and fired his gun, killing Swopes.
Though no one in the group of teens fired that fatal shot, all were charged with his murder and are being tried as adults because of a controversial Illinois law known as the felony murder law.
Under that law, anyone in the state of Illinois can be charged and convicted of first-degree murder even if they didn’t kill the victim or intend to commit a crime.
Critics say the law is broad and unjust, especially when it involves juveniles. Proponents of the law say it deters crime.
Brandon Brown, a Chicago defense attorney, believes the law disproportionately impacts people of color.
“The criminal justice system is inherently racist … it’s not uncommon to overcharge black and brown people, especially in Cook County,” he said.
Brown added that the discussion on the law is not uncommon in the legal community.
Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim is standing behind his decision to charge the teens with first-degree murder.
In a written statement released earlier this month he said:
“Ultimately, it’s clear these offenders were solely responsible for placing the now-deceased 14-year-old offender in danger. They are ultimately responsible for his death. Had they not made the decisions they did make early Tuesday morning, this 14-year-old would still be alive today.”
The law “has long held felons accountable for any foreseeable deaths that occur during the commission or attempted commission of a ‘forcible felony,’” he added.
State Rep. Justin Slaughter (D-27th District) introduced criminal justice reform legislation that would make sure that only people who commit murder can be charged with felony murder.
Nineteen other states have a felony murder law that’s similar to Illinois’ law.
If convicted, the penalty for felony murder is 20 to 60 years in prison.