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Expansive Changes Proposed to Illinois' SAFE-T Act Just Before New Laws Slated to Begin

A proposed amendment to Illinois’ SAFE-T Act would expand the number of and types of crimes that could keep people in jail as they await trial, addressing some of the biggest criticisms surrounding the bill just before it is set to take effect. While not a certainty just yet, Wednesday’s legislation filed by Sen. Robert Peters, a Democrat from Chicago, also clarifies what a prosecutor needs to prove to a judge that a defendant is a danger to others and should be detained. In addition, it allows judges to consider past instances of failing to appear in court when determining pretrial detention and establishes a grant program to help the state’s public defenders handle an expected caseload increase. “We had a host of conversations throughout the fall and through this month that has led to this trailer bill,” Peters said. “My hope is that we’re able to get this done this week so on Jan. 1, Illinois could be at the forefront of pretrial justice.” The SAFE-T act, a sweeping criminal reform overhaul – which involves things like the elimination of cash bail, more training for law enforcement, a ban on chokeholds for police, use of body cameras by police and more – is set to take effect Jan. 1, 2023. The bill, particularly the measure surrounding the end of monetary bail, became a major talking point during the Midterm Elections earlier this month as it drew fierce opposition from a variety of groups and triggered lawsuits by multiple state’s attorneys. Proponents of the bill argue that the cash bail system disproportionately impacts minority communities, and that eliminating the practice will help to ensure more equitable outcomes. Under the provisions of the bill, as passed by the General Assembly last year, the state will allow judges to determine whether individuals accused of a specific set of felonies and violent misdemeanors pose a risk to another individual, or to the community at large. Judges will also be asked to determine whether the defendant poses a flight risk if released. If the judge makes any of those determinations, then the defendant may be held in jail prior to trial. The list of so-called “forcible felonies” that could invite judicial discretion on pretrial detention originally included first and second-degree murder, predatory criminal sexual assault, robbery, burglary, residential burglary, aggravated arson, arson, kidnapping, aggravated battery resulting in great bodily harm, or any other felony that involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against an individual. But the latest proposal adds offenses to the so-called detention net — crimes that qualify a suspect for detention. Additions include offenses that require jail or prison time, and not probation; all forcible felonies; hate crimes, animal torture and DUI causing great bodily harm. Judges may also choose to release such suspects. “We still have a detention net that is very clear, judges have discretion within that detention net,” Peters said. “But again, the intent and the core parts of this legislation remain intact.” In addition, officers will be required to issue a citation for trespassing unless the officer reasonably believes the person poses a threat, or the person has an obvious mental or medical health issue and poses a danger to himself or to others. If an officer issues the citation and the trespassing continues, then the person could be arrested. The amendment also clarifies that anyone charged before Jan. 1 will remain in the old system, but could be moved to the new system if their case fits the criteria. The amendment must still be voted on as lawmakers continue in the final veto session of 2022. Lawmakers say they will take action on it before their fall session adjourns Thursday. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker predicted tweaks would be made before the laws took effect. “I think there will be a good bill that will be presented,” he said earlier in the vet session. “We shouldn’t be flinging the doors open Jan. 1, with the misinformation that’s been put out there, as the driver of that, let’s fix that.”  Pritzker supports the elimination of cash bail, but also favors changes to better explain the bill. Campaign ads in the November election focused on the wide ranging bill, but Pritzker says much of those ads spread misinformation. This fall, more than half of Illinois’ state’s attorneys filed lawsuits focusing on blocking the end of cash bail. The lawsuits have been consolidated with an initial hearing coming on Dec. 7 in Kankakee. State’s Attorney Jim Rowe will lead the plaintiffs in the case, as he was one of the first to file suit against the measure, citing provisions in the state constitution that provide for cash bail and citing the speed with which it passed through the General Assembly. Pritzker said he does not want a delay in implementing the provisions of the law. “I think that we should pass it now, we should pass the changes, the trailer bill now, and should go into effect as intended on January 1,” he said.

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