The race that could determine your future

By Mark Rivera

Know the power of the Champaign County State’s Attorney because Nov. 4 will be more than just a day to elect a president.

Julia Rietz, incumbent Champaign County State’s Attorney, and Janie Miller-Jones, a Champaign County public defender, are competing in the upcoming election for state’s attorney. Both are ready to exercise their prosecutorial discretion.

“Interestingly, we can arrest someone for murder, and if (the state’s attorney) decides not to prosecute them, they can walk out the door,” said Lt. Bryant Seraphin of the Urbana Police Department.

This is a public official who can potentially change a person’s life.

“If a student has received a DUI or is caught shoplifting, the state’s attorney has the power to affect that person’s entire life,” said Lt. Roy Acree of the University Police Department. “(The state’s attorney) has a huge impact on the person at that particular time, but also in the future if they are convicted.”

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

According to the Champaign County State’s Attorney’s Web site, the duties of the state’s attorney are to prosecute state criminal and traffic offenses. These range from simple traffic violations to property crimes, felony theft, DUIs, burglary, robbery, drug offenses, sex offenses, battery and homicide.

“My job is to prosecute crime in this community,” Rietz said. “It affects students both as victims of crime and as offenders.”

However, whether crimes are prosecuted falls under the full discretion of the state’s attorney.

“When we send a case to the state’s attorney’s office, it’s up to them if they want to pursue charges,” Acree said. “That’s why it’s important to write a clear report and get all the facts.”

Miller-Jones agreed.

“The state’s attorney is the only person responsible to decide whether to charge somebody with a crime or not,” Miller-Jones said. “Police officers arrest people but the state’s attorney charges them.”

The severity of a charge is also determined by the state’s attorney. Rietz described shoplifting as one example of where her discretion comes in to play.

“The same situation could be charged a variety of different ways,” Rietz said. “If you walked in to Schnucks and took a package of steaks, stuck it down your pants and walked out without paying, that could be a class 2 felony burglary. It could also be misdemeanor theft or we could not file charges.”

Miller-Jones said this is exactly where she sees charging discrepancies.

“Most of the cases I’m talking about are shoplifting or burglary – the property crimes,” she said. “I see the differences in the charging, and they aren’t consistent whatsoever.”

If convicted of a felony, individuals must report it on many job applications and could face jail-time.

Miller-Jones said she thought offenders have often received more lenient charges because they have the ability to afford defending attorneys in private practice or they have connections in the state’s attorney’s office.

“It happens all the time,” she said. “People in this community believe our system is unfair, and it is unfair with the inconsistency of charging.”

Markus Schober, freshman in LAS, said this is a worrisome situation.

“It’s somewhat troublesome if the state’s attorney is related to a person or corrupt,” he said.

However, Rietz said she looked at charging in a more subtle way.

“Some prosecutors might say, ‘I’m going to charge the highest I can possibly charge,'” Rietz said. “I think we need to give people an opportunity to have a clean record, to make restitution to the community, to move forward, but if they keep breaking the law, eventually we get to the point where we have to say we’re done giving you chances.”

Roman Semenyuk, sophomore in LAS, said he did not know anything about the Champaign County State’s Attorney. However, after learning about the power of their discretion, he said he thought there should be a better system of checks and balances.

“The president has a lot of power, but he has to go through a lot to get the point across,” Semenyuk said.

Still, students should be aware of the state’s attorney’s race because they are subject to the same legal system as everyone else, Miller-Jones said.

“Even though most people don’t have contact with the state’s attorney’s office, they still need to know what the person is about and what they’re doing,” she said. “It’s very important that they make a decision on who will be the most reasonable person.”

Meet the candidates:

Julia Rietz

Rietz was instrumental in creating the Continuous Jury Term process.

Rietz serves as the Chair of Champaign County Children’s Advocacy Center.

Rietz serves on the State Distracted Driving Task Force.

Janie Miller-Jones

Miller-Jones is a member of the Illinois National Guard.

Miller-Jones plans to institute a Community Outreach and Education program.

Miller-Jones plans to re-institute the Bad Check Restitution Program.