Changes made to SAFE-T Act

Lawmakers on Thursday passed an amendment to the SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform’s provisions that will eliminate cash bail when the calendar hits 2023.

The measure expands the list of crimes for which a judge can order pretrial detention, adds to what a judge can consider when determining if a defendant is a risk of willful flight from prosecution and standardizes language regarding a defendant’s danger to the public safety, among several other changes.

The measure will still end the existing system of pretrial detention in favor of one based on an offender’s level of risk to the public or of fleeing prosecution. 

It passed the Senate and House and was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. JB Pritzker.

This was the product of months of negotiations following the original SAFE-T Act’s January 2021 passage. In the end, several state’s attorneys and law enforcement groups, as well as pretrial justice advocates who were on the other side of the issue, adopted a stance of neutrality.

The bill didn’t receive any Republican support, although several members of the minority party in the Senate acknowledged what they believed were considerable but insufficient improvements to the underlying law.

The measure is slated to take effect as planned next year, barring a pending lawsuit from more than 50 state’s attorneys – including Monroe County State’s Attorney Lucas Liefer – who are challenging it on state constitutional grounds.

Most of the language addresses several concerns cited by state’s attorneys and others, including worries the original law’s vague wording could lead to mass release of individuals being held in lieu of bail when the calendar hits Jan. 1.

The new measure clarifies the changes that will apply to those charged with crimes after that date. Those who were held in lieu of bail before 2023 will be able to petition to have their case moved to the new system.

It adds clarifying language regarding part of the bill which some had read as preventing police from arresting a trespasser.

While it maintains language instructing officers to issue a citation in lieu of custodial arrest for cases below Class A misdemeanors, it also specifies that police maintain discretion to make an arrest if the person is a threat to the community or they continue to break the law.

Lawmakers also clarified language regarding the standard of proving a defendant is a danger to the public. The bill states a person to be held on the dangerousness standard must be proven to be a “real and present threat to the safety of any person or persons or the community, based on the specific articulable facts of the case.”

It clarifies and defines that all people charged with “forcible felonies” and non-probationable offenses may be detained under the dangerousness standard. 

Individuals accused of domestic violence may also be held pretrial.

It adds hate crimes, felony animal torture, aggravated DUI causing bodily harm, DUI while operating a school bus and other DUI charges as detainable offenses if the defendant is deemed dangerous.

Republicans in committee and on the Senate floor, however, criticized the measure’s approach to the crime of burglary. The bill states residential burglary or burglary “where there is use of force against another person” are detainable under the dangerousness standard.

But if a burglary doesn’t meet those criteria, such as someone stealing change from an unlocked car, it’s not detainable based on an offender’s risk of danger to the community.

The offense would still be detainable under a “willful flight” standard, and anyone already out on pretrial release can be detained when charged with any crime. Per the law, “willful flight” means “intentional conduct with a purpose to thwart the judicial process to avoid prosecution.”

The amendment expands existing law to state “isolated” non-appearances are not evidence of willful flight, but “patterns of intentional conduct to evade prosecution …may be considered as factors in assessing future intent to evade prosecution.”

The amendment also allows more hearings to be conducted remotely – a measure at least partially spurred by an anticipated increase in workload for the court system.

It also creates a grant program through the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts to increase the number of public defenders, although it would be subject to appropriations by future General Assemblies.

Sen. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) said Democratic lawmakers “chose to do the bare minimum” to address concerns about the SAFE-T Act. 

 â€śThe judges of our state still don’t have the necessary broad discretion to ensure that we keep the public safe. There are still categories of offenses that can’t be held, including burglary. It does not address the unfunded mandates that will cost our counties millions of dollars and force those officials to choose between cutting funding for other priorities or raising taxes,” she said. “The good components of this bill don’t come close to making up for all of the issues contained in the original law. We could have and should have done more to ensure that the people of Illinois will be safe and have the best possible criminal justice system.”

(article courtesy of Capitol News Illinois)

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