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Proponents of controversial justice reform fight back against call for change

Much of the discussion among proponents of the SAFE-T Act’s criminal justice reform has focused in recent days on how it will or will not be changed before Jan. 1, when cash bail will be abolished in Illinois under a provision known as the Pretrial Fairness Act.

Everyone from Gov. JB Pritzker to Attorney General Kwame Raoul to the bill’s most ardent supporters said a follow-up measure would likely pass after lawmakers return to the Capitol on Nov. 15 for their session. fall veto.

But advocates for victims of domestic and sexual violence have joined the law’s lead sponsor SAFE-T and others in opposing a bill that Pritzker called a good starting point for talks on a follow-up legislation.

“We stand here in solidarity with all survivor organizations as we advance the Pre-Trial Fairness Act and speak out against these provisions we see in the Senate bill that nullify safeguards and protections for survivors. that we have fought so hard for. tough for,” state Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, said at a press conference.

He was referring to Senate Bill 4228, a follow-up bill sponsored by State Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, who voted for the original SAFE-T law and said he still supports to the implementation of a system in which money plays no role in whether a person is released pending trial.

Bennett, in a phone call last month shortly after filing the legislation, said he was open to negotiations, but he filed it to clarify what he believed to be the intent of the original legislation.

This includes changes to the detention standards provided for in the system that will replace cash bail. Republicans and nearly all senior state prosecutors have said they believe the language is too restrictive for judges considering detaining an individual before trial.

In the SAFE-T Act as it stands, judges will consider each individual’s circumstances and may deny temporary release if the offender is charged with certain offenses and is considered a danger to the community, or if the person presents a risk of “voluntary absconding” of the prosecution. All individuals can also be detained, regardless of the offence, if they commit a crime while already on bail.

The law also created a presumption in favor of releasing people who have committed a Class B or C misdemeanor or other minor or traffic violation.

A Loyola University study estimated that a judge would not have been able to detain the defendant in 56% of arrests that occurred statewide in 2020 and 2021 if the presumption in favor of release had been in place.

About 70% of those likely to be detained would be in connection with domestic violence or violations of the order of protections, according to the study, which is one of the reasons why the SAFE-T law received the support of anti-domestic violence groups.

Bennett said while much of the current conversation about “undefensible” offenses stems from “right-wing misrepresentations,” he introduced the bill to erase any potential doubt.

“But if there was any ambiguity that a judge might misinterpret that, I think that’s fixed in (Senate Bill) 4228 and I think it’s very clear that we want people go out into the community if they are not a danger to the community. We want people to get back on the path to rehabilitation,” he said. “But I think we also have to recognize that there are people who are threatening our society, and if there’s an objective conclusion about that, I think everyone feels better if they’re held until so that he can spend his day in court.”

Advocacy groups have criticized a specific provision in Bennett’s bill that would expand the judiciary to detain a defendant charged with any crime if the court believes he poses a serious risk of skipping the trial, posing a danger to the community or threaten a potential witness or juror.

They also faulted SB 4228 for removing language creating a “presumption in favor of release,” saying it instead creates an unconstitutional presumption in favor of detention.

“By removing language that favors bail for low-level, nonviolent offenses and creating a ‘catch-all’ provision that allows prosecutors to move for detention on any charge, SB 4228 harms the judicial economy promoted by the new Pretrial Fairness Act system,” the attorneys wrote in an open letter to lawmakers.

The original SAFE-T law was designed to make initial detention hearings more robust than current bail hearings, which typically take place within 72 hours of arrest, last less than five minutes and end with a judge who decides the terms of release, including how much money, if any, the defendant should post.

The new process will allow a prosecutor to apply for pre-trial detention and a defendant will be able to have a public defender present at detention hearings.

Advocacy groups said the presumption in favor of bail for lower level offenses in the original SAFE-T Act was designed to free up court resources to spend more time on cases where violence was involved or was likely to be involved.

“A lot of lawmakers are trying to substitute tough on crime for what we want to be, which is tough on violence,” Kaethe Morris Hoffer, executive director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, said at a conference in hurry. “And the Pre-Trial Fairness Act allows our system to improve its ability to really focus its attention on violent crimes.”

Advocacy groups have said another concern is the removal of the requirement for state prosecutors to notify victims of upcoming detention hearings. They said the requirement is necessary to ensure that victims do not fall through the cracks when it comes to the administration of justice.

Another unmentioned change contained in Bennett’s bill is a provision to ensure that the end of cash bond does not apply to people held in lieu of bond before Jan. 1. It addresses one of the main concerns of opponents, that those detained before Jan. 1 may be eligible for release depending on how a judge interprets the existing language.

The sweeping criminal justice reform law is also the subject of a growing list of lawsuits by dozens of prosecutors and sheriffs across the state seeking an end to the rollout of cashless bail.

Most of these complaints relate to the legislative process for approving the bill, a process in which Illinois courts have historically been unwilling to interfere. Another legal argument relates to a provision of the constitution concerning offenses subject to bail. Statewide lawsuits were to be consolidated as courts considered granting a preliminary injunction.