Governor Signs Criminal Justice Reform

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Gov. JB Pritzker signed a criminal justice omnibus bill backed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Monday, abolishing cash bail, overhauling police certification and reforming use-of-force standards among numerous other provisions.

Pritzker signed the legislation, House Bill 3653, referred to as the “Safe-T Act,” during an event at Chicago State University alongside members of his administration and lawmakers from the Black Caucus.

“This legislation marks a substantial step toward dismantling the systemic racism that plagues our communities, our state and our nation, and brings us closer to true safety, true fairness and true justice,” Pritzker said.

While the legislation received grassroots support from activists, buoyed by the growing national concern over policing following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor last year, the bill faced strong opposition from Republican lawmakers and law enforcement groups.

Members of the Illinois Law Enforcement Coalition, who opposed the bill, issued this statement on Monday.

“In signing this bill into law, Governor Pritzker chose to listen to a few strident political voices rather than the 120,000 petition signing citizens who plainly saw the bill for what it is. This new law is a blatant move to punish an entire, honorable profession that will end up hurting law-abiding citizens the most. Because we are sworn to protect and serve the public, we sincerely hope that we will not be proven right about this new law, that it won’t cause police officers to leave the profession in droves and handcuff those who remain so they can’t stop crimes against people and property. Please don’t let us measure its dismal failure by the shattered lives it produces. We urge all citizens to remember who supported this law, and keep that in mind the next time they look to the police in Illinois for the protection they can no longer provide.”    

Opponents of the legislation have said it will result in a less safe Illinois and have criticized the process behind its development as lacking in transparency without proper input from Republican lawmakers and the public at large.

Proponents say HB 3653 will make Illinois safer by making the justice system more equitable for Black, Latino, low-income and minority communities that have been disproportionately harmed by disparate policies in sentencing, incarceration and policing.

Members of the Black Caucus have countered claims against the bill’s transparency by pointing to nine subject matter hearings held by the caucus in state Senate committees between September and November. For nearly 30 hours, lawmakers from both parties, law enforcement, judges, state’s attorneys, legal experts, representatives of the court, the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office hashed out many of the issues that became provisions in the bill, such as the abolition of cash bail by 2023 and police certification.

The office of the governor and Attorney General Kwame Raoul held working meetings over several months starting in July with representatives from both chambers and parties, Fraternal Order of Police groups, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sherriffs’ Association

The actual written legislation was introduced to the General Assembly during the five-day lame duck session in January where lawmakers attempted to pass a years-worth of laws in a legislative blitz following the disruption of the regular session by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The final version of the bill was introduced after midnight on the final day of the lame-duck, where it received just enough votes to pass both chambers with less-than-an-hour of floor-debate.

Here is what HB 3653, now law, does:

Starting on Jan. 1, 2023, all bail bonds and conditions of bail will be replaced by a system of pretrial release to be developed by the Illinois courts based on a detainee’s alleged crime, their risk of not appearing for their court date, and the threat or danger they may pose to an individual or community if released. Illinois is the first state to completely abolish cash bail by statute. Washington, D.C. does not use cash bail, and New Jersey effectively eliminated cash bail in most cases in 2017.

Exceptions from pretrial release under the new law include forcible felonies such as first-degree murder, sexual assault, arson and any other felony involving the use or threat of physical force; stalking and aggravated stalking where the defendant poses a threat to the victim if released; abuse or battery of a family member where their release poses a danger to that family member; gun crimes where the defendant poses a threat to a specific, identifiable person; and cases where the defendant has committed a felony that wouldn’t otherwise result in detention but they are considered a high risk of fleeing prosecution and missing their court date.

The law would place the burden on the state to prove an individual should be detained, rather than the individual proving that they should go free. Prosecutors would submit a request for an individual’s detention, and judges would be required to put their reasoning for granting the pre-trial detention.

House Bill 3653 establishes the intent of the General Assembly to establish statewide use-of-force standards by 2022.

It changes current standards by banning chokeholds and any actions that restrict breathing being used above the chest unless in a situation that authorizes deadly force.

Under the law, use of force is only allowed when it is necessary for the officer to defend themselves or others from bodily harm when making an arrest. When a suspect is attempting to escape arrest, officers are only authorized to use deadly force if that person is unable to be caught at a later date and is likely to harm others.

Officers must make a reasonable effort to identify themselves as law enforcement and warn suspects before they can use deadly force, with some exceptions.

Law enforcement is prohibited from using deadly force against individuals committing property crimes unless that crime is tied to terrorism or to another crime or action where deadly force is permitted.

The law also creates a duty to intervene when another officer is using excessive force, and a duty to provide medical assistance to injured persons regardless of who they are.

Under House Bill 3653, the state will have more power over the certification and hiring of law enforcement at every agency through the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, known as ILETSB.

Before this legislation ILETSB could only decertify an officer under very narrow circumstances. They had to be convicted of a felony or a limited set of misdemeanors such as offering a bribe, prostitution or criminal sex abuse.

The new law grants ILETSB broader discretionary authority to decertify officers for unethical or unprofessional conduct that would otherwise not rise to the level of a felony. All law enforcement agencies would be required to only hire certified officers, and officers would need to recertify under the system every three years.

The new law also makes body cameras mandatory for law enforcement agencies statewide. The largest departments must have body cameras in place by 2022, while all agencies, no matter how small, must have body cameras implemented by 2025.

The law does not include statutory funding for departments to comply.

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