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Illinois legislature passes major criminal reform bill

| Feb 5, 2021 | Criminal defense |

Illinois is trying to respond to the calls for criminal justice reform. The state legislature passed a 760-page crime bill at the end of its last session which is awaiting Gov. JB Pritzker’s signature. Among its many provisions, at least four reforms could affect criminal defense rights.

Phone calls

People under police custody in Illinois have the legal right, as portrayed on television and movies, to one phone call within a reasonable time. But that requirement was criticized as restricting an arrestee’s ability to make timely calls for assistance.

This bill will assure the right to make three phone calls within one hour. Proponents claim this would strengthen the opportunities for making phone calls, involve attorneys earlier in the process and hold police accountable.

Cash bail

If approved, the bill would eliminate cash bail on Jan 1, 2023. Almost every arrestee would be released from jail while awaiting trial unless a judge finds that the defendant is a danger to the public or a flight risk. In those cases, the defendant would be incarcerated without the opportunity for release by paying bail.

Bail was criticized as focusing on the ability to pay and not on risk. Cook County already implemented reforms which made progress in eliminating bail.

Resisting arrest

People have been arrested for resisting arrest even though no other offense was charged or there was no legitimate reason for the police interaction. This bill prohibits a resisting arrest charge unless the police can prove they were trying to make a valid arrest for another crime before the person resisted.

This proposal is intended to help reduce encounters between police and people of color and remove the ability to make unjustified police stops and arrests solely on resistance to that stop.

Mandatory supervised release

Currently, inmates serve a term of mandatory supervised release after leaving prison in which they must report to an officer and comply with rules. This continues mass incarceration by sending people back to prison for minor rule infractions and diverts resources from needed support for parolees, according to critics.

If the bill is enacted, supervision would not be mandatory for people convicted of the two lowest felonies, class three and class four felonies. The Illinois prison review board could impose supervision that is necessary after there is an inmate risk and needs assessment. The bill also reduces the time former inmates are on supervised release.

As this bill shows, relatively minor offenses can have serious consequences and the criminal justice system may be harsh. Attorneys can help protect rights.

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