Sangamon County State's Attorney Dan Wright and Sheriff Jack Campbell announced a lawsuit against Governor Pritzker's Safe-T- Act Policy, scheduled to take effect this January. Wright and Campbell join dozens of elected officials across the State concerned over the legislation's danger to communities.
State's Attorney Dan Wright;
Signed into law as Public Act 101-652, House Bill 3653 (The “SAFE-T” Act) remains the subject of significant public confusion and uncertainty as the January 1, 2023 effective date draws near. Even the tireless, non-partisan, and collaborative efforts of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts Office of Statewide Pretrial Services, the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices Implementation Task Force, and the Illinois Judicial College have resulted in a widely-held assessment that the Act contains confusing and inconsistent provisions likely resulting in divergent interpretations and disparate outcomes in courtrooms across the State of Illinois.
However, some aspects of the new pretrial rules are very clear and have become the subject of sincerely-held public safety concerns raised by law enforcement and State's Attorneys of both political parties in nearly every Illinois county. As of January 1, 2023, Illinois Judges will lose their current and longstanding authority to detain anyone charged with a criminal offense based assessment of all relevant circumstances. Instead, an impartial judiciary will be unable to detain any individual charged with a crime without a written petition filed by the State's Attorney subject to the offense-based restrictions of 725 ILCS 5/110-6.1, as amended by the Act, which strictly limit the charged offenses eligible for pretrial detention.
Offenses which are truly not "detainable" under the Act include misdemeanor offenses and Class 4 felonies not specifically listed in the plain language of Section 110-6.1. These offenses include, among others, Aggravated DUI causing great bodily harm, certain Hate Crime offenses, Aggravated Assault with a firearm, Concealment of Death, and threats of violence against persons at a school. Judges will no longer possess discretion to assess danger to the community as a whole when considering pretrial detention of individuals charged with a broad range of violent and otherwise dangerous offenses not specifically listed in the Act. Such offenses include, among others, Aggravated Battery (including great bodily harm or permanent disfigurement), Aggravated DUI (fatality), Aggravated Fleeing and Eluding a Peace Officer, Aggravated Leaving the Scene of an Accident (great bodily harm or death), Arson, Burglary,
Drug-Induced Homicide, Intimidation (including threats against witnesses and potential jurors); Kidnaping, Robbery, Second-Degree Murder, Threatening a Public Official, Possession of a Firearm by a Gang Member, Possession of a Stolen Firearm, Concealment of a Homicidal Death, Theft in any amount, and all offenses involving lethal drug distribution.
The Act explicitly limits pretrial detention based upon "high likelihood of willful flight” to Class 3 felonies or greater, narrowly defines "willful flight” as “planning or attempting to evade prosecution by concealing oneself," and eliminates the authority of an impartial judge to detain an individual based solely upon a chronic history of failure to appear in court. While a Judge will be able to consider whether an individual presents a “high likelihood of willful flight” for eligible offenses, the restrictive definition under the plain language of the Act makes detention on this basis extremely unlikely and eliminates the authority of judges to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the circumstances to determine whether an individual is unlikely to return to court following release. However, even under the “willful flight” standard, an individual cannot be detained absent “clear and convincing evidence” that release would create a "real and present threat to the safety of a specific, identifiable person or persons” as opposed to the entire community which is a primary consideration in any judge's assessment of danger to public safety prior to January 1, 2023.
As Sangamon County State's Attorney, I swore to “support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Illinois..." pursuant to Article XIII, Section 3 of the Illinois Constitution (Oath or Affirmation of Office), including the exercise of legal remedies to ensure legislation affecting public safety comports with the Illinois Constitution. Failure to support and defend any provision of the Illinois Constitution weakens the strength of all others and compromises the rights of every citizen. Accordingly, along with Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell, I have filed suit in Sangamon County Circuit Court to address the constitutionality of Public Act 101-652.
Litigation of good faith constitutional questions raised by the Act as written, while absolutely necessary to support and defend the Illinois Constitution, does not indicate categorical rebuke of criminal justice reform and many of the public policy objectives underlying the Act. To the contrary, as I have previously stated, the Act includes many provisions that will bring positive reform. The need for meaningful legislative changes to achieve a responsible balance between the rights of criminal defendants and the safety of law-abiding citizens should not continue to be an entrenched “us vs. them” issue hijacked by social media hysteria and election season posturing. Getting criminal justice reform right for all citizens of Illinois is too important to allow our public discourse to devolve into hyperbole divorced from the plain language of the Act, our Constitution, and common sense.
Whatever legislation is in place on January 1, 2023, it will impact the safety of every Illinoisan - regardless of what they look like, where they live, or the balance of their bank account. Law enforcement, prosecutors, and Judges have no power to make legislative changes necessary to protect the public, but are committed to ongoing negotiations with those who do. The People of Illinois are counting on their elected officials to pass a responsible trailer bill which incorporates the very real concerns of public safety officials and sufficiently preserves the underlying reforms intended by the legislature. In the meantime, I am obligated to bring every tool to bear in defense of the Illinois Constitution, the rights of all involved in our justice system, and fundamental public safety into 2023 and beyond.