By Attorney Bradley Fuller
On January 1, 2023, Illinois will enact the no cash bail provisions of the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act, commonly known as the SAFE-T Act. This wide-sweeping legislation aimed at correcting many of the inefficiencies and injustices in our current criminal justice system has unfortunately been maliciously politicized and, as a result, has been massively misunderstood by the general public. The new law, as is common with large pieces of new legislation, has been amended by several trailer bills, many of which have no material effect but rather clarify the preexisting language, so as to quiet detractors who have sought to disparage the reforms by making false claims about the Act's mandates.
While the criminal justice process is immense and complex, the following article will provide a basic overview of the pre-trial process under the new reforms.
If a citizen if suspected of committing a crime, law enforcement officers will, of course, make a temporary detention of the suspected person. If police believe that a charge is warranted, they may--under certain reasonable circumstances, issue a citation to the suspect with a notice to appear in court. This practice is a tremendous benefit to law enforcement professionals and taxpayers, as it erases the cumbersome and expensive necessity of booking and processing non-violent, non-serious offenders. This very rational and positive policy has been shamefully misrepresented to the public as prohibiting police from arresting dangerous suspects. This, of course, is completely untrue. Under the new law, if a person represents a danger to the public safety, or even a danger to himself or herself, police may, of course, take the suspect into custody. Contrary to what the fear mongering detractors have caused most of the public to believe, the new reforms will allow police to arrest a mentally unwell suspect as well as a suspect who has repeatedly committed the same violation.
Moreover, if the crime is serious enough or if the suspect is of a dangerous nature, the matter will go before a judge at a detention hearing. At this hearing, a neutral magistrate will determine whether or a not a criminal suspect should be released from jail and if released, what conditions should be imposed upon that person to guarantee public safety and the return of the suspect to court.
Under the old cash bail system, an obviously dangerous criminal defendant could simply swipe his or her family member or significant other's credit card and walk out of pre-trial detention. The new detention hearing process allows judges to detain defendants who pose an unreasonable risk of harm to the public, while also allowing non-dangerous defendants who cannot afford to pay their bail to languish unfairly in jail at the enormous expense of the taxpayer. Moreover, any criminal defendant charged with a class 3 or above felony, or any crime which presents a danger to the public, who poses a high risk of fleeing may be detained by the court. No cash bail is quite obviously the much safer and more equitable method of pre-trial detention and release.
Under the new law, even those suspects, who have not yet been convicted of anything and who have been granted release, may still be subjected to very strict monitoring and conditions. These include but are not limited to the following: 24-hour GPS monitoring, home confinement, restricted or complete prohibition to go on-line, a daily curfew, warrantless search of their private living space, randomized drug testing, and the prohibition of travel or even presence at certain places or around certain peoples.
Despite what unscrupulous or uneducated political operatives say, the pre-trial procedures under the SAFE-T Act will make Illinois a much safer and more equitable state.