After noticing a rise in armed robberies in the Metro East, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois Stephen R. Wigginton has join forces with surrounding law enforcement to reduce those threats.
“We want to get the message out that we’re here to prevent armed robberies from occurring,” Wigginton said. “We don’t want to investigate them. We want them to stop.”
Wigginton was joined by St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan F. Kelly, Madison County State’s Attorney Thomas D. Gibbons and several city, county and state law enforcement officers at a press conference addressing their initiative on Sept. 12.
“In recent months, we have been collectively outraged by the brazen attacks on soft targets in the Metro East,” Wigginton said.
Soft targets are described as businesses, gas stations, restaurants and banks that cannot employ security guards; which are the focus of this initiative, Wigginton added.
The initiative is making efforts to put a stop to violent robberies through the Hobbs Act, which allows stronger, harsher sentencing guidelines for violent criminals.
There are only two other Hobbs task forces in the U.S. – Philadelphia and Milwaukie - which join the FBI and local police to take down robbers. But Wigginton said the initiative created in the Metro East will be different and stronger, because it will include states attorney’s offices, county police, local police and federal law enforcement.
“If we want to be effective crime fighters,” Wigginton said, “we have to work as a team.”
While the team has not yet responded to an armed robbery, Wigginton has reason to believe the task force will be successful. Both Philadelphia and Milwaukie have reported positive feedback from their initiative under the Hobbs Act, he said.
The Hobbs Act seeks to ensure criminals get lengthy sentences, a supervised release after serving the sentence and the high likelihood of serving time far away from home.
Developed in 1946, the act was traditionally used for labor and interstate violence and ensures harsh guidelines for offenders.
“It is an old statute,” Wigginton said about Hobbs. “But it is an effective statute.”
Under the Hobbs Act, criminals get additional years in prison to be served consecutively and not concurrently with other sentences. If a criminal possesses a gun during a robbery, he or she will receive an additional five years; brandish a gun – seven additional years; fire the weapon in any direction for any purpose – 10 additional years.
Wigginton said criminals who choose to make a career out of victimizing the innocent face the three strikes rule. Two armed robbery convictions comes with a 25-year minimum sentence in federal prison. But, after receiving three violent felonies of any kind for which time was served in a federal prison, that will earn mandatory life in federal prison, he said.
“This is not as unusual as you think,” Wigginton said about career criminals.
Not all cases will be brought before federal court. Wigginton said they will look at each incident individually - suspect’s criminal history, age, robbery facts, victims and circumstances - to determine if the case would be better served in federal or state courts. Whichever would allow for the longer, harsher sentence is where Wigginton said the cases will be tried.
However, Wigginton warns that the Petite Policy allows a state's attorney to prosecute a criminal federally if he or she believes the criminal’s sentence under state court is not harsh enough.
He cited a case in which a child molester received probation under state court sentencing, but charged federally that criminal's punishment would be up to 30 years in prison.
“We’ll be looking at all those cases,” Kelly said, “cases that are already charged as well as cases in the future to make a determination if we need to send that to the federal level and really hammer you hard.”
Wigginton warns would-be criminals that federal prison is not where they want to be. Visiting hours are limited, personal freedom in miniscule and they will be relocated to different federal prisons in the harshest states in the country.
“If you are out there thinking you want to do this, think again,” Kelly said. “The cost of victimizing your fellow citizens has just gone up.”