3 things you need to know about latest SAFE-T Act changes

3 things you need to know about latest SAFE-T Act changes

Lawmakers are set to consider an amendment to the controversial criminal justice reform law set to take effect on Jan. 1. Here are three things Illinoisans should know about the proposed changes.

State lawmakers took a lot of heat from political opponents and those in the criminal justice system when they passed the SAFE-T Act, which eliminates cash bail in Illinois and mandates police officers wear body cameras by 2025, among other reforms.

Changes were just proposed in an amendment to the act filed Nov. 29 by state Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago. If the changes fail to be signed into law, the SAFE-T Act will make Illinois the first state in the country to go through with eliminating cash bail statewide. The act is set to take effect Jan. 1.

While doing away with what is often an unfair system that keeps poor defendants in jail while letting wealthier offenders go free, the act has some significant flaws. Peters’ amendment aims to address some of the many concerns of those opposed to the bill. Here are three things to know about this amendment.

1. The changes lessen the burden on prosecutors to detain dangerous defendants

The SAFE-T Act requires in most cases that prosecutors identify a specific person or persons who are threatened by the release of a defendant before a judge can deny pretrial release. The trailer bill would in most cases allow denial of pretrial release by showing a threat to the general community as well. This standard is like the one implemented in New Jersey, the only other state to come close to eliminating cash bail statewide.

The bill also expands the crimes that qualify to keep a person jailed before trial. It allows denial of pretrial release for any forcible felony where the defendant poses a threat to any persons or the community. In the original bill, forcible felonies subject to probation could be denied pretrial release only when there was a high likelihood the person would flee.

Finally, the bill removes some of the seeming contradictions in the Pretrial Fairness Act portion of the SAFE-T Act, clarifying procedures required for denial of pretrial release.

2. The trailer bill expands support for public defenders 

The trailer bill creates a new public defender grant program to train and hire attorneys to assist county public defenders in pretrial detention hearings. The grant is to be funded by the state, subject to appropriation by the General Assembly. The bill also requires defense counsel be given adequate opportunity to confer with clients before any pretrial detention hearing and allows the defense to confer with clients remotely without being recorded.

3. The changes will likely be rushed through the General Assembly, but not as quickly as the original SAFE-T Act

 This 308-page amendment to the SAFE-T Act will likely be passed and the bill voted on shortly afterward, without allowing the three days to read the amended bill that the spirit of the Illinois Constitution’s three-day reading provision would require. However, unlike the original SAFE-T Act, the amendment will not have been passed on the same day it was filed, giving lawmakers some time to review the actual text of the bill, but not much.

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