Locals join SAFE-T Act fight

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Pictured, Rep. David Friess (R-Red Bud) addresses a group of residents gathered in Waterloo Thursday night to learn more about the implications of the SAFE-T Act.

Last Wednesday, Monroe County joined a group of over 50 Illinois county state’s attorneys and sheriffs to sue the state in objection to the SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform bill set to go into effect Jan. 1.

The filing, in which Liefer and Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing are plaintiffs, names Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, Gov. JB Pritzker, Speaker of the House Emanuel Welch and Senate President Donald Harmon as defendants.

The filing includes four counts against the constitutionality of the SAFE-T Act in regard to its effect and the method in which it was passed. The final count calls for “injunctive relief” in that “plaintiffs will be irreparably harmed because all pending cases and any new cases will be immediately affected by the provisions of (the SAFE-T) Act.”

Read the full complaint filing by clicking here.

The SAFE-T Act, passed in early 2021, has drawn criticism from the law enforcement and judicial system communities for its broad reach and vague language – particularly in the elimination of cash bail at the beginning of 2023 as part of the law’s Pretrial Fairness Act provisions. 

Since the beginning of September, more than 50 similar suits have been filed in the state. Randolph County State’s Attorney Jeremy Walker announced Sept. 30 he had filed a similar suit.

Liefer told the Republic-Times each of the four counties in the newly formed 24th Judicial Circuit  – Monroe, Randolph, Washington and Perry – have already or plan to sue the state in an attempt to stop the SAFE-T Act from being enforced in its current form.

“As it stands, the law will effectively tie the hands of law enforcement in favor of those who see fit to act contrary to our laws and take advantage of our safety and prosperity in Monroe County,” Liefer stated in an Oct. 11 press release

He continued by stating the SAFE-T Act “initiates an unworkable, inconsistent and unsafe formula of pretrial release that creates a presumption that a defendant is entitled to release on personal recognizance.”

Liefer and Rohlfing both took issue with a scenario presented by Pritzker in which the elimination of cash bail would prevent an individual accused of stealing diapers from spending six months in jail.

Cash bond required for a Class A misdemeanor of retail theft is typically $100. With the passage of law in Illinois several years ago giving $30 of credit per day served, Rohlfing explained the maximum jail time for a similar offense would only be four days – not six months.

“I focus on Governor Pritzker’s statement to illustrate the lack of willingness to have legitimate and accurate conversations about our current system of bail and what we can do to improve our system,” Liefer said, adding, “Am I opposed to the SAFE-T Act as written? Absolutely. Am I willing to discuss bail reform and discuss the creation of a pretrial system that is not solely dependent on a person’s financial ability? You bet.”

Liefer noted while proponents of the bill have admitted it needs revision, it has yet to be modified since passage in January 2021.

He pointed out the limited scope in which a person may be denied pretrial release as a major concern.

Burglary, a “probational offense,” is not a qualifying offense to deny pretrial release under the current understanding of the law without showing a “willful flight risk,” Liefer explained. 

“Short of a defendant willingly disclosing his plan to evade prosecution, which is highly unlikely, a defendant charged with burglary, a Class 2 felony, will be released pending trial without any consideration of his or her prior criminal history, the weight of the evidence, the seriousness of the offense, the safety of the community and without legitimate consideration for past non-appearance in court,” Liefer concluded.   

Sen. Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) filed a bill in late September which proposes amendments to the SAFE-T Act’s pretrial conditions, including a provision to consider past non-appearance for court dates as evidence when deciding whether or not to grant pretrial release.

The revisions will likely be heard during a “veto session” scheduled for mid-November, but with no guarantees of change, the 50-plus lawsuits have been filed as a way to prevent what has been labeled as “dangerous” legislation by critics.

Rohlfing anticipates that without the penalty of jail time, there will be an increase locally in theft and burglary.

“This is just my opinion, but why would someone commit a crime in Missouri when they could come here and not have to go to jail?” Rohlfing wondered.

He also suggested “there is a chance – although I don’t recommend it – that people will start taking matters into their own hands” if confronted with an apparent non-detainable crime. 

“A lot of people won’t be happy,” Rohlfing said.

Liefer and Rohlfing have already begun a local campaign to raise public awareness of the implications of the SAFE-T Act in its current form. 

Liefer said a presentation last Tuesday to a local Rotary club and an event in Waterloo Thursday night attended by more than 70 people have been productive.

Liefer said local residents are “legitimately concerned” and the presentations and subsequent discussion have led to better understanding of the implications of the SAFE-T Act.

Liefer and Rohlfing, both Republicans, addressed the Monroe County Farm Bureau on Tuesday night and are planning similar presentations in Columbia, Hecker and Valmeyer.

“We’re hoping a judge puts a stay” on the implementation of SAFE-T Act to address the apparent issues, Rohlfing said. “But it was passed and we have to work through it.”

Rohlfing added he does not consider it a “political issue,” but said it is impossible to avoid politics when discussing the SAFE-T Act.

He said it is not a matter of Democrats versus Republicans, but that legislators supporting the SAFE-T Act “push things that aren’t true” and “can’t support their agenda in a common sense way.”

Rohlfing continued by saying it is “truly unfortunate – and it’s not one side or the other – but (politicians) working for the will of the people is past tense.”  

For our earlier article about the SAFE-T Act, click here.

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