Illinois Justice Project

Answers: Aaron Goldstein

Aaron Goldstein Questionaaire Answers 

 Aaron Goldstein

Aaron Goldstein

1. THE ROLE OF  THE ATTORNEY GENERAL IN  CRIMINAL JUSTICE  REFORM: Illinois residents, policy makers and advocates from all parts of the state and across the political spectrum have united to understand how to improve the criminal justice system. The current efforts are based on the well-defined proposition that an effective criminal justice system provides both fairness and safety for all people of the state, despite their color, creed, geographic location or economic standing.

The Office of the Illinois Attorney General is responsible for law enforcement and the equal protection of law for all citizens. What role will your administration play in the criminal justice reform movement?


I will advocate for real criminal justice reform with four very important points: 1) ending mass incarceration, 2) ending the racist drug war, 3) eliminating cash bail, and 4) achieving real police reform.

How would your approach be different from the current administration when it comes to justice reform and/or how would it be similar? Please identify a particular policy or position that would be a focus of your criminal justice reform work as Attorney General.

I agree with Lisa Madigan’s lawsuit to have a consent decree against the Chicago Police Department but I believe the community must have enforcement power over the consent decree. Unfortunately, I do not believe that Attorney General Madigan did much with regards to criminal justice reform and at times, defended the current system. I will be proactive in achieving my listed criminal justice reform goals and will not defend this unfair system. I will also look into what role the Attorney General’s office can play in reviewing wrongful convictions.

2. BOND REFORM: On any given day, tens of thousands of people are incarcerated in Illinois county jails. Most of these people are being detained while awaiting trial —meaning they have not been convicted of a crime and are only being held because they don’t have the money to post bond.  In July of 2017, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released a memo outlining how Cook County’s wealth-based pretrial detention scheme violates both the Illinois Bail Statute and U.S Constitution. Holder joins the chorus of attorneys, community organizations and policy groups that recognize that, too often, a person’s access to wealth is the deciding factor in determining whether he or she remains incarcerated after arrest.

Do you agree with the Holder memo, that opines that traditional use of bond in Illinois uses intentionally unaffordable cash bonds as a mean to keep people incarcerated in a pre-trial setting and thus is a constitutionally unacceptable practice, or do you support the Attorney General’s current defense of the system?

I agree with the Holder memo and in my role as public defender, have worked on stopping the cash bail system in Cook County as well as assisting the plaintiff’s in the Robinson v. Lewis case. I disagree with Attorney General Madigan and would not defend the state’s bond system in Robinson v. Lewis.

If elected, what would you do to help improve bond court practice and outcomes across the state?

Education is very important, particularly educating judges. As a committeeman, I created a rigorous procedure to evaluate judicial candidates to ensure they would be fair. I also asked them about their views on the bail system. As Attorney General, I will monitor the bail system to ensure that it is fair to the public and those who receive a bond. No one should be in custody because they cannot afford to post bond. I will ensure judges and stakeholders are educated on the bail system and if it is not being administered fairly I will act to correct it.

3. RECORD EXPUNGEMENT: Over one million Illinois residents have a criminal record of some kind. Many of these people are attempting to get past their previous missteps and live productive lives,, but are hampered by the barriers these criminal records have on their ability to move forward..

The Illinois legislature has worked to address the issue,, most recently expanding the number of individuals who are eligible for sealing relief. However, much remains to be done. For example, the practice of private companies purchasing criminal records from governments and making the information available to the public through the internet (despite not being in compliance with new state laws restricting access) has gone unchecked in some instances.

What would you do to address the barriers criminal records present in acquiring safe housing, attaining life-improving education and securing gainful employment?

The Attorney General is the attorney for the people but also is the adviser to the legislature. I will advocate for an expansion of expungement and sealing so that those with criminal records can go on to be productive citizens.

In particular, how would you direct the Attorney General’s Office to enforce the current laws on the books that seek to achieve records relief?

In addition to advocating for an expansion of the current laws on the books, I will direct the office to enforce the current laws so that criminal records which should not be made public are not released.

4. POLICE MISCONDUCT: In August of 2017, the current Illinois Attorney General sued the City of Chicago, contending that reforms by the city are not sufficient to prevent the Chicago Police Department from continuing a pattern of excessive and deadly force that disproportionately hurts African Americans and Latinos.

Statewide, in the limited circumstances when a law enforcement officer uses excessive and deadly force and needs to be brought to justice, local state’s attorneys find themselves in a difficult situation of having to prosecute members of the same local police department or agency that they rely on to serve as the investigators and witnesses in the overwhelming majority of their cases . While state’s attorney’s office s all across the state are willing to take on this task, it is certainly not an optimal situation and can produce, or be perceived to produce, poor results.

The Illinois Criminal Code grants the Attorney General the power to assist or preside over the trial of any person charged with a crime in Illinois. How would you direct your office to participate in current Attorney General’s lawsuit against the city on police reform? Do you support a consent decree?

I support a consent decree but believe the community members and organizations should have enforcement power over the consent decree.

Do recent personnel changes within the Chicago Police Department and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability or the introduction of the new Attorney General website on the consent decree affect your opinion on the need to reform? 

No. These may be steps in the right direction but we must correct decades of abuse and unfairness. This will take a long process that includes much more than what has already been done thus far.

 Do you believe that special prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office should be used to handle select cases of excessive and deadly force, or do you support continued reliance on local state’s attorneys to handle these delicate cases?

I believe that special prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office should be used to handle select cases of excessive and deadly force. Unfortunately, local state’s attorneys cannot be relied on to handle these cases and even when they can be relied on, the public trust is not there because of the long history of not treating these cases fairly. Until that changes, special prosecutors must be used.

5. FINES AND FEES: In 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court commissioned the Statutory Court Fee Task Force, which made findings and recommendations to address the issue of fines and fees in court proceedings. The 15-member Task Force included active and retired judges, court clerks, a Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, members of the private bar and elected officials from both political parties.

The Task Force found that assessments imposed on individuals in both criminal and civil cases create severe and disproportionate impacts on low and moderate-income Illinois residents, and that there is excessive variation for the same types of proceedings across the state.

Do you agree with the findings of the Statutory Court Fee Task Force?


 If so, what role will you play in reducing the impact of fines and fees on low and middle-class Illinois residents?  How would you accomplish this?

I will play an active role in reducing the impact of fines and fees on low and middle-class Illinois residents. The first part is educating lawyers, judges, and clerks to explain the disparities that are occurring and get them to correct the disparity. If the disparity continues, I will look into legal action to ensure that all residents are receiving equal protection under the law.

6. GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION: Gun violence in urban areas across the state continues to reach crisis levels. While Illinois has had a vibrant debate on the effectiveness of increasing sentencing for possession of guns by repeat gun offenders, nearly everyone on both sides of that debate agrees that we must do more than increase criminal sentencing penalties to see significant safety improvements.

Stemming the tide of illegal guns into victimized communities is commonly identified as a key priority in stopping gun violence. A closer examination of urban gun violence reveals that many young men and boys on the path to violence have themselves been victims. The lines continue to blur between perpetrator and victim in the urban gun violence context.

As Attorney General, what would you do to improve our state’s efforts in preventing gun violence? What would you do differently from the current Attorney General to stem the flow of illegal guns into communities hit hard by gun violence?

We need to have sensible gun laws that makes sure guns are not so easily obtainable. I support legislation that requires licensing for gun sellers as well as regulations that make it harder for guns to come into our communities. We must focus on getting guns out of our communities instead of getting young people off the street. We cannot incarcerate our way out of this problem. As Attorney General I believe we should look at the gun manufacturers and their role in putting tools of death into our communities. Unfortunately, there is federal immunity for gun manufacturers. I will advocate that that immunity end but in the meantime, I will explore loopholes that allows potential litigation against the gun manufacturers similar to the lawsuit in Newtown, Connecticut.

Given that the Attorney General’s Office is a major stakeholder in supporting crime victims and that, in the past, support has largely gone to a non-diverse set of victims of crime, how might you as Attorney General support broadening the idea of who is a crime victim in order to break the cycle of violence?

As a public defender, the stereotype is that I represent “criminals”. Yet, many of my clients are victims in many ways. They are victims of crime, but they are also victims of income inequality, an unfair justice system, and failing educational system. Many of my clients were once complaining witnesses in separate cases. There is a cycle of violence that affects so many. I support broadening the idea of who is a crime victim so that we can truly get to the root of violence and stop the cycle. Being “tough on crime” has really gotten us nowhere. If we expand our understanding of who is a victim we will better understand what we can do to get out of this cycle of violence.

7. SENTENCING RETROACTIVITY: In his first month in office in 2015, Governor Bruce Rauner issued an executive order creating the bipartisan Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, which is comprised of leaders from the law enforcement, public service, academia and the General Assembly. The Commission was directed to reduce Illinois prison population 25% by 2025 and delivered 27 actionable recommendations.

With an Illinois prison population still over 42,500 people, many advocates argue that reforms that seek to achieve serious reductions to prison population must include both changes to sentencing law that affect the pipeline of those coming in, but also must explore retroactive reductions in sentences for those already in prison. Many of these individuals were sentenced under now abandoned, so-called “tough-on-crime” policies that have been rejected by the modern approach to criminal justice and that the “tough-on-crime” policies produced detrimental social and safety outcomes.

Despite a diverse group of states such as Louisiana, Colorado and Maryland passing retroactive sentencing reforms in the past few years, the current Attorney General has declined opining on their legality in Illinois, which has blocked legislative retroactive sentencing reforms.

Do you agree with the need to achieve the goal of reducing the prison population 25% by 2025 as outlined by the Governor and his commission? How can this reduction be achieved safely?

Yes. We must end the drug war. Drug crimes account for a high percentage of people incarcerated and we must look toward rehabilitation and not incarceration for people involved in nonviolent crimes, particularly drug crimes. I am strongly in favor of legalizing marijuana but understand that legalizing marijuana will not solely end the problem of mass incarceration. We must go further and stop this terrible policy of a drug war.

 What is your opinion on the legality of retroactive sentencing reforms?

 We have to look at each reform on a case by case basis but I agree with the other states that are passing retroactive sentencing reforms. I would also advocate for the governor to commute sentences and issue pardons for many nonviolent offenders.

The Illinois Criminal Code defines the responsibility of the Attorney General to include giving legal or constitutional opinions on issues relating to criminal law. If elected, would you be willing to issue an official legal opinion supporting the legality of passing laws which address retroactive sentencing?

Yes. I will not only issue a legal opinion supporting the legality of passing laws addressing retroactive sentencing, I will be a strong advocate for such reforms.