If no action is taken to undo recent criminal justice reforms, prosecutors will soon have a much harder time keeping dangerous criminals behind bars. That was the message from several State’s Attorneys who visited the Capitol on Wednesday, April 6.
The State’s Attorneys from Fayette, Kendall, Mercer and Vermilion Counties held a press conference with members of the Senate Republican Caucus to highlight the need for action. They warned about changes to criminal law statutes that will kick in on January 1, changes that will make it nearly impossible to hold many violent criminals in jail while they await trial. In addition, they expressed serious concerns regarding other provisions, including a new rule that will potentially allow victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse to be ordered to testify almost immediately at bond hearings.
The changes in law were due to the passage of the SAFE-T Act in 2021. That legislation, totaling nearly 800 pages, was passed in the middle of the night on a party-line vote, with little advance warning during a lame-duck session of the legislature.
One of the state’s attorneys noted a recent case in which a suspect was caught on video shooting at a car. Because of provisions in the SAFE-T Act, a suspect can’t be held in pre-trial custody for that crime unless prosecutors can identify a person that the suspect poses an immediate threat to. While the shooter in that case could be identified, the individual or individuals in the car could not be, so the suspect would have to be released.
The state’s attorneys noted the chilling effect that other pending changes have had on the law enforcement community, pushing many officers and sheriffs into leaving their careers in police work behind. They also believe that the changes will encourage and embolden criminals.
Senate Republicans filed legislation earlier in the year that would repeal these new pre-trial provisions, but they were never given consideration.