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How we analyzed Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s record on dropped cases

Monday, August 10, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by David Jackson, Todd Lighty and Gary Marx

By David Jackson, Todd Lighty, Gary Marx & Alex Richards

To compare Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s record of dropping cases against felony defendants to that of her predecessor, fellow Democrat Anita Alvarez, the Tribune analyzed data that Foxx posts online about every resolution of a felony criminal case going back to 2011.

These records contain information on hundreds of thousands of defendants, although identifying information that is typically public — names and criminal case numbers — has been removed.

00:26 09:50 360p 720p HD 1080p HD Auto (360p) About Connatix V43004 About Connatix V43004

For this story, the Tribune analyzed “disposition” data, which documents the final outcome of charges in a case, such as a guilty plea, a finding of not guilty or being dropped entirely.

The Tribune examined cases where charges were “disposed” — or reached an outcome — during Alvarez’s last three years in office, from Dec. 1, 2013, through Nov. 30, 2016, and Foxx’s first three years in office, from Dec. 1, 2016, through Nov. 30, 2019.

In its raw form, Foxx’s disposition data contains more than 800,000 rows, each containing various details for a single criminal charge. The Tribune used an open-source statistical computing package called

R to collapse the data into a form where a single row corresponded to a criminal defendant and summarized the outcomes for that case. It also specified the most severe charge brought against that defendant, referred to in the data as the “primary” charge.

Reporters focused on charges that resulted in a “nolle prosequi” disposition — using the common Latin legal term for declining to prosecute.

Although many criminal defendants have some charges dropped during legal proceedings, the Tribune looked specifically at cases where prosecutors dismissed every charge against a defendant.

The state’s attorney’s office typically groups cases into one of about 80 broad offense categories such as homicide, armed robbery, narcotics and unlawful use of a weapon. According to officials in Foxx’s office, these offense categories can change during the course of a case, so the Tribune based its analysis on the “updated” offense category rather than the original version. Both are listed in the data.

The Tribune analyzed dismissal rates for Foxx and Alvarez based on the crime category and the felony classification of the defendant’s primary charge.

Reporters also analyzed conviction rates for Foxx and Alvarez, based on the same three-year periods. Defendants were considered convicted if any single charge against them resulted in a guilty plea, a finding of guilty from a bench trial or a verdict of guilty from a jury trial.

While reporting this story, the Tribune shared its analysis and methods with Foxx’s office, including the R computer code used to generate the newspaper’s findings. The state’s attorney identified no errors in the Tribune’s analysis.

In the vast majority of cases, charges against a defendant were resolved on a single date. But if more than one date applied, the Tribune’s analysis used the earliest date when charges were first disposed. So if some charges in a case were dropped under Alvarez and the rest under Foxx, the Tribune counted the case as being dismissed by Alvarez.

The analysis also includes some criminal cases where charges were filed during Alvarez’s tenure but resolved during Foxx’s time in office. Foxx’s office suggested that the Tribune’s comparison should be based on the date cases were received by the office, not when they were resolved. That way, the analysis of Foxx’s record would not include cases started under Alvarez.

So the Tribune also conducted a separate analysis based on the date the cases were received, as Foxx’s office suggested. That method eliminated tens of thousands of cases from the examination.

Regardless, the findings were the same: The state’s attorney’s office under Foxx dismissed felony cases at a higher rate than under Alvarez.

Jackson, Lighty and Marx are Tribune reporters. Richards, a former Tribune data reporter, is an assistant professor of journalism at Syracuse University.



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