Known as the “SAFE-T Act”, (for Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity), the Illinois Senate and House passed a wide-ranging criminal justice reform Act earlier this year which has just now taken effect. Among the highlights of this new Act are included:
Driver’s License Traffic Suspension Relief
For years, there has been a public outcry that the poorest and most disadvantaged segments of Chicago’s (and the rest of Illinois’) population have been the ones most affected by license suspensions that relate to an inability to pay certain fines. The law for decades in Illinois had been that if a person received 5 or more automated speed camera violations, automated red-light tickets, railroad grade crossing tickets, parking tickets or the like, then their driver’s license would be suspended.
This type of suspension, sometimes referred to as a code “07” suspension, was indefinite in length, meaning that it could potentially last forever if not fixed. The only way to fix such a suspension was to pay it off, but depending on which municipality the money was owed to, the results might differ greatly. Some cities required 100% of the fines to be paid before they sent a “release” to the Illinois Secretary of State allowing the suspension to be lifted. Other cities, like Chicago, often would allow the lifting of the suspension, but only once half of the fines had been paid and a future payment plan was in place.
Cities such as Chicago have long used this system as a “hammer” against those with such fines, holding their driver’s license over the license holder’s head and demanding up-front payment. Unfortunately, the practical result of this was that many people, who could not afford to pay their tickets, saw the balance owed on their tickets grow with late fees and become double or triple the original amount, making the payment of those fees less and less likely, unless they could somehow win the lottery.
While these fines continued to grow, the person remained unable to drive legally. Those affected would often continue to drive anyway, as the only way for them to earn a living and support their families (and have any hope of paying their fines) was to keep their job and drive illegally. This would sometimes result in getting arrested for driving on a suspended license in the process, a ticket that usually a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and up to $2500 in fines. Under Illinois law, those convicted of multiple such traffic offenses might find themselves serving time in Cook County jail or with additional fines that would then put the dream of regaining their license further and further out of reach.
When this Act was signed into law, the Illinois Governor stated that there was a difference between holding people accountable for their actions and doing things to them that ended up depriving them of the ability to support themselves and rise out of poverty. So as of July 1, 2021, the Illinois Secretary of State won’t hold or suspend driver’s licenses anymore for problems of this type. Those who believe that they have been affected can call (217) 782-6212 as this type of license reinstatement is intended to be automatic and free.
Standardized Use of Police Force
In the wake of recent highly-publicized deaths at the hands of the Chicago Police and other departments across the country (such as George Floyd, Adam Toledo and Duante Wright), there has been an outcry for some type of uniform standards as they relate to the use of police force, such as chokeholds. As was exposed during the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd, the use of chokeholds and various police restraints vary widely depending on the police department. This new law is intended to create such standards for all police departments in Illinois.
Anonymous Police Complaints OK
It will now be acceptable for citizens to anonymously complain about police without using their name or identifying information with the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board (ILETSB) regarding any conduct that might decertify a police officer such as when an officer:
- Commits a misdemeanor or felony
- Fails to intervene when required with a crime
- Uses excessive force
- Commits perjury
- Tampers with their body camera or dash camera
- Makes a false statement
- Tampers with evidence
- Fabricates Evidence
- Engages in unethical or unprofessional conduct
For obvious reasons, citizens have long been hesitant to report police to authorities for fear of retaliation and arrest. This law strives to remove that impediment.
Retention of Records Regarding Police Misconduct and Creation of a Misconduct Database
This now requires that records relating to bad acts, police brutality and misconduct of police officers be retained permanently and not destroyed after a set period of years (as was the law previously).
It also now requires police departments to notify the ILETSB whenever an officer resigns while being investigated for any sex offense or felony. The previous version of the law only required notification for felonies that were Class 2 or greater.
Additional Police Training Required
Probationary police officers will now be required to take crisis intervention training which includes:
- 12 hours of crisis role-playing
- 6 hours instruction related to the use-of-force, safety and de-escalation techniques
- 6 hours instruction related to traffic stops considered “high risk”
- Bias, ethnic and racial sensitivity training
- Training related to emergency medical response
- Training related to crisis intervention including 40 hours related to those with mental illness
- Officer mental health and wellness
Body Cameras Soon Required
When body cameras first came out, many police departments were not able to afford the high cost of the cameras (or chose not to implement them). This new law makes officer-worn body cameras mandatory, with this requirement to be gradually phased in between 2022 and 2025.
Use of Force Limitations
Additional language was added to the Criminal Code in Illinois related to when a police officer is justified when using force against a citizen, which now basically says:
- Under the totality of the circumstances;
- The officer believes force is necessary;
- To defend another person or himself from bodily harm;
- Or necessary to prevent escape or resistance;
- When the officer believes that person will likely cause harm to another and can’t be apprehended later, and the person just attempted to escape by using a deadly weapon;
- Or just committed or attempted to commit a forcible felony
Additionally, additional limitations on the use force prohibit:
- Deadly force against a person when the danger that is posed is only to that person (such as suicide), rather than a danger to the officer or another person;
- Deadly force against a person who is committing a crime against property unless it is an act of terrorism;
- Chokeholds and other methods of restraint above the shoulders that pose a risk of asphyxiation except in situations where deadly force is justified;
- Firing impact projectiles (such as rubber bullets) when targeted at a person’s back, pelvis or head
- Firing impact projectiles without a target into a crowd;
- Using irritants or chemical agents (such as tear gas) unless an order to disperse has first been issued, along with time for the crowd to disperse.
Lastly, and clearly in the wake of events surrounding George Floyd, police officers will now have a duty to intervene when another officer is using unauthorized force. That intervening officer now has 5 days maximum to report the incident.
Right to a Phone Call When Arrested
On Television, everyone demands their right to a phone call and usually gets it. In Chicago and across Illinois, those under arrest have usually had a much different experience. But now, under the new law, everyone in police custody (which means anyone not free to leave) has the right to make three phone calls as quickly as possible. These calls are to be completely free of charge, a cell phone or landline is to be provided to them, the person is to be given access to their cell phone to retrieve personal numbers, and the calls may not be monitored or recorded by police. Police are also required to post a sign with this information along with the phone number for the Public Defender. These three calls are to be given no later than three hours after being placed into custody.
No-Knock Warrant Protections
After Anjanette Young filed a Freedom of Information Act Request to obtain the video showing the Chicago Police Department executing a warrant, the video went viral. It showed from the perspective of police bodycams, the CPD executing a no-knock warrant by striking her door with a battering ram. Inside, Anjanette Young stood naked while the police announced that they had a search warrant and that she needed to put her hands up. Then then handcuffed her as she protested that they had the wrong house. The primary problem was that the police had indeed executed the warrant at the wrong address.
In response to this event, as well as many others that have happened in Chicago and elsewhere, the new law requires that:
- Every police officer that enters the residence must wear a body camera and follow proper body cam protocols before entering;
- Steps must be taken before entering to ensure that the address is correct and a plan is in place for any children or vulnerable persons who may be present;
- If a search warrant has been executed at the wrong address, the police officer must immediately report it to their supervisor.
Illinois Will Eliminate Cash Bail
Cash bail will be abolished in Illinois for much of the same reason that this new law abolishes driver’s license suspensions based upon a person’s inability to pay for certain tickets and fines; in that it serves to disproportionately injure those of limited financial means and the most vulnerable in our community. It’s intended to be a step in the right direction in terms of remedying the systematic racism that exists not just in Chicago, but state-wide and nationwide.
Basically, cash bail has been under attack for as long as the system has been in place. Presently, when a defendant is arrested and charged with a crime, the Court sets a bail amount that must be paid before they are released from custody. For some very minor charges, or for people with no criminal history, an “I Bond” (also known as a personal recognizance bond) is set which requires no cash be paid before release. But for most others, a dollar amount is set and the defendant will not be released from jail until or unless that money is posted.
For people with money in the bank and good paying jobs, the requirement poses no great obstacle. Even if charged with a very serious felony, such people are usually able to put together the required bail from personal savings and family member contributions in order to be released from jail while their case winds its way through the court system. But for those who live check-to-check, who are unemployed, who have serious mental health issues or who are homeless, the path is not so clear cut. Even if faced with a cash bail amount of only several hundred dollars for a misdemeanor crime, the money required for release may be insurmountable, and a person may spend months or even years in county jail awaiting trial. Especially now, with a back-up of tens of thousands of cases in Cook County alone waiting for trial, a small amount of money often means the difference between freedom and imprisonment. With this new law, Illinois becomes the first state in the country to completely abolish cash bail, even though states such as New York, California and New Jersey have limited its application.
What does eliminating cash bail really mean? It doesn’t mean that every person charged with a crime will be released pending trial, but it does probably mean that most will. Once charged with a crime, a Judge will make a determination, after hearing evidence from both the prosecution and the defense, in regard to the question of whether the defendant will pose a risk to the community if released pending trial and whether they can be counted on to return to court. If the risk is high that the defendant will be a danger or won’t return, the Judge can order that they be held in custody until trial. If this is the finding, then the Judge will be required to make specific written findings concerning why the safety of the community cannot be protected if the defendant is released. If the defendant is held in custody, the Judge will need to revisit his finding for detention at each subsequent hearing date.
If the State’s Attorney files a verified petition requesting denial of pretrial release, then the Court will be required to hold a hearing and the court may deny release if it can be shown that the defendant is:
- Charged with certain forcible felonies or sex offenses and their release poses a threat to the community, or
- Charged with stalking, aggravated stalking, domestic battery, or aggravated domestic battery and poses a threat to the community, or
- Likely to flee prosecution when charged with certain serious offenses, or
- Certain other circumstances
But if the risk is not that great, then the defendant will be released on “pre-trial release” without the requirement of posting a cash bail amount. Those released who later fail to appear in court or who commit crimes while on release will undoubtedly lose the privilege and be taken into custody pending trial.
The Judge will still be able to impose GPS, electric monitoring, or home confinement as a condition of release, but only if they state into the record the basis of their finding and that no other less restrictive conditions would protect the community and ensure the defendant’s continued appearance in court.
Notice to Crime Victims
Although already common practice for the most part, victims of crimes must now be contacted by the State’s Attorney’s Office prior to the initial pretrial hearing and must be informed of their ability to request an order of protection at that hearing.
Release from Custody for Lower-Level Crimes/Offenses
For people charged with most traffic offenses, Class B misdemeanors, Class C misdemeanors, Business offenses and Petty offenses, police will now be required to issue a citation rather than making a custodial arrest. This is contingent upon the officer’s conclusion that the person does not appear to pose any obvious or imminent threat to the community, and that there does not appear to be any mental health or medical issue that poses a threat to the person’s own safety. Once released, the citation is to be scheduled within 21 days for court.
Transfer to Another Illinois County
In cases where the defendant is taken into custody on a felony and has another warrant pending in another county, the new law requires that he be transferred to that other county within 72 hours after the initial hearing is completed.
Speak to Our Experienced Legal Team
These are just a handful of the many changes that this new law brings to Illinois this year. Since 1990, the attorneys at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC have been helping our clients navigate new and old laws alike, making sure that our clients receive the best possible outcome for the charges that they face. Call to reach us 24 hours day at (312) 644-0444 or use our online contact form to send us a direct message.