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Now that the SAFE-T Act has been in effect since 9/18/23 the changes its has implemented are stark

Brian L. Polinske
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Edwardsville Criminal Defense Trial Lawyer

On September 18, 2023 the SAFE-T Act went into effect.  Although it encompasses a wide variety of issues related to the criminal law side of cases, it also effected many other correlated issues.  The most noticeable change was to cause what is known as "cashless bail" to become law.  This in theory means that most people are let out of jail pending charges without having to post cash as bail.  This is true for most low level offenses.  I say "most" because there are various offenses that now result in defendants being kept in jail without the ability to be released on relatively low level felony and some misdemeanor offenses.  The practice among circuit judges still widely varies from county to county.  In one county a defendant would be released without much of a fight on, let's say a felony in possession of a weapon.  In St. Clair County that same person will not be released.  The same goes for some misdemeanor Domestic Battery cases.  Felony DUI charges can result in detention in cases where you wouldn't expect that to occur. The point is I'm not sure the drafters of the Act thought of these things before implementing the law.  I understand they didn't put it up for public discussion and passed it in the middle of the night solely with the assistance of our Democrat legislators.  This is a very serious flaw that should be corrected. 

Another change that has taken effect on January 1, 2024 is now DOC prisoners can get credit for all their program participation.  Even in 100% cases.  For instance, a convicted murderer was sentenced to 80 years in the 1990s when that was still a 50% offense.  So simple math would estimate the prisoner would need to serve 40 years.  Not true.  He only had to serve 30 years and was released this year after the new law took effect.  This was a shock to the general public and made the news.  Again, none of these portions of the law was put before the public for discussions before its passage and implementation. 

Appeals of pretrial detainees require the usage of a special notice of appeal that is much longer than a normal notice of appeal.  Failure to use that form has already resulted in the denial of at least one appeal.  The law seems to be settling with regards to appeals from detention orders.  The appellate courts are for the most part upholding the circuit court judge's rulings.  There still are the odd reversal but mainly that occurs only when procedure has not been complied with by the trial court. 

One of the largest impacts this law has had on the criminal defense bar is that there are no longer bond assignments.  This means, practically speaking, that many clients who in the past could pay their attorney with all or a part of their bonds are in a position that they are unable to afford private criminal defense attorneys.  That is unfortunate for two reasons.  The public defender's caseloads have skyrocketed, leaving them with even less time to spend on each individual client's case.  And the second is that many potential clients who could have obtained private counsel in the past will no longer be able to secure them for new cases.  Private counsel almost always is better equipped to handle felony cases due to the ability to expend more time on the individual case.

It will be interesting to see if the statute is changed in the future or even repealed.  I doubt it will be repealed due to the Democrat's control on the Illinois legislature.  But with enough public outcry it could occur.

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