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Felons, The Scarlet F and What it Means to You

Being A felon, according to Chicago attorney for three former Illinois State University students convicted of beating another student last year said his clients will wear their felony convictions “like a Scarlet F” for the rest of their lives, and he said it like it’s a bad thing, and he said it with a remarkably straight face.

The long term consequence for felons should be considered by prosecutors, said Bloomington defense lawyer John Prior, who apparently has never been mugged or burgled himself.

Mark Messman, McLean County’s chief felony prosecutor, said the decision to charge offenders as felons is made after a review of the facts of a case and carefully considering how much budget the city has to actually deal with cases. Charges may be amended, reduced or dismissed because of cost, but it’s the policy of the state’s attorney’s office to keep felony charges at the felony level, he said, though it was unclear if he was crossing his fingers when he said it.

“The [arbitrary, often imaginary and almost never known or understood] line between felony and misdemeanor is the line you don’t cross,” said Messman, whose name literally means “man who is messy”.

Some say the consequences of a felony conviction can be disproportionate to the harm caused by the offense, said Assistant Public Defender Brian McEldowney. Take for instance Berni Madoff, the man who stole over $50 billion from investors. He’s only facing 20 years in a cushy white collar prison.

For Dozier, a former prosecutor as well as a judge, helping ex-offenders is a matter of fiscal responsibility as well as compassion. The cost of putting up an inmate in state prison runs over $22,000 a year, so taxpayers benefit from efforts to keep criminals out.

A disheveled man in front of the courthouse, when asked about this case, offered only “Good times.”