Lake Co. State's Attorney to focus on violent crime, victim's rights

Lake County State's Attorney Eric Rinehart said his office is changing the way violent crime cases are prosecuted.

Rinehart, who is marking his 100th day on the job Wednesday after being elected last fall, said some prosecutors will be assigned to specialize in violent crime cases. They will be freed up from other work so they can stay with a violent crime case from Day One until there is a plea agreement or a verdict.

Rinehart refers to the new approach as "vertical prosecution" and says it "helps us get to the truth faster so that we can achieve justice for the victims quickly while also avoiding the wrongful convictions of the past."

As a candidate, Rinehart criticized the office of having a "culture of wrongful convictions." One example came in January 2016 when appellate judges found Lake County prosecutors committed misconduct by making improper comments at the end of a 2013 trial in which a man was convicted of criminal sexual assault.

The focus on violent crime does not mean lesser cases will be forgotten, Rinehart said. He said there will be an emphasis on moving those cases along faster.

"We have over 90 felony driving on a revoked license cases right now," Rinehart said. "We need to do those cases correctly, but we need to say to ourselves they need to be done faster, they are simpler."

Rinehart said another goal of vertical prosecution will be improving communication between prosecutors and victims and their families. He is in the process of hiring the first chief of victim services, whose role will be to coordinate victim outreach across the office's divisions. The chief of victim services also will increase the state's attorney's office's compliance with the Illinois Victims' Bill of Rights, which include the rights to be treated fairly and with respect and to be notified of court proceedings in a timely manner.

Rinehart said his office is also seeking grant money to create a text message notification system that would update victims and witnesses about changes in court dates.

"Through innovative and aggressive techniques, we will reverse the trend of rising violence while also working to restore the trust between the people and the courthouse," Rinehart said.

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