Law Offices of David Guy Stevens
The Governor signed a Criminal Justice and a Police Reform Bill.
In short, portions of this Bill will require all Illinois police officers to wear body cameras and it will also do away with cash bail.
As a defense attorney, I see on almost a daily basis issues in cases that can only be decided on whether the officer(s) or the defendant are deemed to be more credible. And it goes without saying that something like 99.9% of the time the Judge chooses to believe the officer when his or her statement contradicts the defendant’s. The problem of course is that in truth well over 0.01% of the time the defendant’s version of the events are actually more accurate. Over the years, this has led to officers exaggerating the truth to get the result they seek.
Over the last number of years, some of these unsavory practices by the police have been discovered due to citizens recording police encounters with their cell phones. Videos are a good thing and it is my belief that if the police know they are being recorded, instances of abuse of power will decrease.
This Bill will protect Illinois citizens who are being investigated for crimes, as well as strengthen the cases of police officers who are properly doing their jobs.
Therefore, in the opinion of this attorney, body-cams are a no-brainer.
A much more controversial aspect of this Bill is the doing away with cash bond. The proponents will say that the justice system already favors the rich and is stacked against the poor. By removing cash bail it will move to make the playing field more level. However, the opponents of the Bill will argue that it make's our communities less safe. The problem with this argument is that prior to this Bill, Judges could already deny bond to dangerous criminals.
The way bond court has worked up until this point is; a Judge will assess the case and take many different factors into account when determining a bond amount. Factors include the seriousness of the crime, was the crime violent and will the release the accused endanger society. The Judge will also likely take into account the person’s criminal history and his or her history of missing court dates. Then the Judge will hopefully set an appropriate bond amount.
The problem with this former system was that in many cases indigent people who had been accused of crimes could not afford to post the bond amounts. Therefore, they would be forced to sit in jail until trial, or in many cases they would plead to crimes they didn’t commit just to get out of custody.
For these reasons, I am in favor of the new no cash bail system. But I do have my own concerns: Just like the old system, the new one will require the Judge to determine whether the defendant is a dangerous person. If the Judge determines that they are a danger to society the accused will not be released on bond. In theory, this makes perfect sense. However, my personal concern is; will there be a new criteria created to determine whether a person is dangerous? There are hundreds of Judges, and each of them will be deciding what constitutes as dangerous.
Of course, this will not be an issue for the obvious situations; such as, murder or serial sexual assaults, and other obviously violent acts. However, there are many more situations out there, such as this example:
A husband and wife get into an argument and the police are called. When they arrive on scene someone gets arrested because the police usually believe that is the safest course of action. Then when the arrested party gets released on bond they are asked to stay away from their spouse for 72 hours or until further order of court. But this person is being released with no clothes, no belongings, and many times no money. So they go back to the house to get some things they need to live. This of course violates their bond conditions. They end up getting arrested again and charged with violation of bond. So, this person who is presumed innocent, has no criminal history, who had an argument with their spouse (like most couples have), and was just trying to get some clothes, now has two “violent” crime charges in the matter of a couple days.
Will this person now be held in custody for the safety of society?
How about the person arrested for their third DUI? Is it endangering society allowing him out of custody? Many Judges my still say, "no," but my concern is, given this new law, many will now say, "yes."
This Bill is positive, but it is worth our time to monitor its potential unintended consequences.