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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office drops charges against two students for alleged tampering with The Daily

Samantha Powers/The Daily Northwestern
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office intends to drop criminal charges against two Northwestern students.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has decided to dismiss criminal charges against two Northwestern students in connection with tampered copies of The Daily circulated in October, the office confirmed Wednesday afternoon. The students were both charged in November with “Theft of Advertising Services,” a Class A misdemeanor which carries up to a year in jail and up to a $2,500 fine in Illinois.

The office noted in a statement that it does not review or approve misdemeanor charges brought by police departments prior to filing. It added that, “given the specific nature of these cases,” the office completed a thorough review of the situation, including engaging in discussions with Students Publishing Company, The Daily’s parent company and publisher.

“Our criminal justice system should only be utilized when there is no other recourse for accountability,” the office said in a statement. “Northwestern University and campus police are fully equipped to hold the involved individuals accountable, ensuring that such matters are handled in a manner that is both appropriate to the educational context and respectful of students’ rights.”

University spokesperson Jon Yates told The Daily the University supports the State’s Attorney’s Office, which used its discretion in dropping the charges.

The prosecutor’s decision comes after SPC board Chair John Byrne published a letter Wednesday pledging to intercede in the prosecution of the students.

The letter followed pressure from both The Daily’s editorial board — which called on SPC to change its course of action in a Monday editorial — and the broader NU community. Eighty-nine student organizations, faculty and NU community members signed a letter published Friday calling on SPC to drop its criminal complaint, and a petition demanding the same has since garnered more than 6,000 signatures. Seventy student organizations also vowed not to speak, collaborate or engage with The Daily or SPC until the company took “meaningful steps to reverse their stance” in a Monday Letter to the Editor.

A banner hung on The Arch Wednesday morning read “Drop charges, not bombs.”

SPC initially reported the October incident to University Police and then signed criminal complaints against the two students with the Circuit Court of Cook County. Byrne said in the letter that SPC board members were not asked whether they wanted to pursue criminal charges against the individuals and were not aware they were students at the time.

Still, Byrne pledged to make a “good faith” effort to pursue a resolution that is “neither punitive nor permanent.” He also reaffirmed SPC’s mission to serve the interests of the NU community.

“We hope to heal the hurt and repair the relationships that have been damaged and frayed by our unintentional foray into the criminal justice system,” Byrne wrote in the letter.

The statute prohibiting “theft of advertising services” was originally passed in 2001 in response to the distribution of racist fliers in Pekin, Illinois newspapers. The crime only exists in one other state: California, where the law was passed in response to the distribution of Ku Klux Klan propaganda.

Edwin Yohnka, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the decision was a positive development for free speech.

“Clearly this incident did not do material harm to anyone or anything,” Yohnka said. “So it raised the fundamental question as to whether or not the statute should be used in this way, especially in a way in which the University would have been creating criminal records for two of its students that would follow them through the rest of their lives.”

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect a correction from the State’s Attorney’s Office clarifying that they did not consult with the University before announcing announcing their intent to drop charges.

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