Local SAFE-T Act reactions

Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing and Monroe County State’s Attorney Ryan Webb issued a joint press release last week regarding the July 18 Illinois Supreme Court decision ruling the SAFE-T Act constitutional. 

“We respectfully disagree with the decision, but ultimately, we must accept it,” the press release states. “If there is a bright side, the actions taken by the state’s attorneys and sheriffs to file lawsuits to challenge the hastily written bill that was originally passed paved the way to right some of the most concerning aspects of that bill.”

In December, the Illinois General Assembly made several changes ahead of the no-cash bail protocol originally scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of 2023.

Most of the revised language addressed 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 changes go into effect.

The new measure clarified the changes that will apply to those charged with crimes after that date. Those who were held in lieu of bail before the effective date of Sept. 18 will be able to petition to have their case moved to the new system.

It also added 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.

The amendments added 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.

At the time, Republicans in committee and on the Senate floor 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.

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.

Even with the concessions made last year, local officials are still not content with the upcoming implementation of the law.

The joint press release from Rohlfing and Webb further states, “The thorough job done by those throughout the county in anticipation of the eventual passage of the SAFE-T Act has made Monroe County well-prepared for the implementation of the act on Sept. 18. We steadfastly believe that the legislature’s passage of the SAFE-T Act’s mandates, if unaccounted for through dedicated law enforcement and prosecutions, make the communities in this state less safe. Nonetheless, we were sworn to uphold the Constitution of the State of Illinois and ultimately, though we respectfully disagree with the finding that the SAFE-T Act is constitutional, we will do what we can within the law and work cooperatively to charge and prosecute those who would do harm.”

A statement from Randolph County Sheriff Jarrod Peters expressed a similar sentiment.

“It’s not good for the community,” Peters said following the decision last Tuesday. “It puts the public in harm’s way.”

Peters noted that while there are some problems with the criminal justice system, “this won’t fix the issues. I see absolutely nothing positive coming out of this.” 

Rohlfing still 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 said ahead of the initial implementation date.

He also reiterated a statement shared late last year that “there is a chance … 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.

“We are committed to accounting for these unfunded mandates, ensuring that victims of crime get the justice they deserve, and striving to keep our communities safe,” last week’s press release continued. “Despite both frustration and disappointment with the outcome, we are confident that those sworn to uphold the law in our 24th Judicial Circuit and Monroe County will respond effectively and efficiently. The safety of our citizens is that important.”

(Some information for this article was obtained from North County News)

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Scott Woodsmall

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