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Digging Deeper: How courts would be impacted by the police reform bill

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — On Thursday, we first told you about a controversial police reform bill lawmakers could soon vote on in Springfield. We are continuing coverage of that bill.

Though the vast majority of the bill's reforms are geared at law enforcement, there are three major changes that could come to the courts.

They encompass detaining a suspect, ending cash bail, and eliminating felony murder. We take a look at each.

Detaining a suspect:

A little more than halfway through the controversial 611-page police reform bill (read it here), on page 371, you'll see a major change in pre-trial proceedings.

Right now, judges can hold a suspect in jail if he or she feels that person is a danger to the community. But if this bill passes, the language is less broad.

Winnebago County State's Attorney J. Hanley says the suspect must be a danger to a specific person. Hanley, who opposes the bill and spent time on Thursday on a phone call with other Illinois state's attorneys who also oppose it, says that clause could put dangerous criminals back in the community.

"You could have someone with multiple DUIs, but because you can't identify a specific person that they might hurt, you have to let that person back into the community," Hanley explains.

It's an argument, he says, would prove victorious for a defendant with this new language.

And Hanley goes further, even saying, based on this provision alone, that's reason enough to oppose the bill.

Upon hearing of Hanley's opposition, local Democratic State Representative Maurice West, who supports the bill and helped draft some of the legislation for it, responded to 13 WREX by saying there's a lot of other good things within the bill and many more conversations to be had.

Cash bail:

Another portion of the bill calls for ending cash bail, which is the percentage of bond people need to pay to get out jail before their trial.

West says this will put those who don't have the funds to post bail on the same playing field as those who do.

"If you don't have the money, then you'll be incarcerated as you wait for your trial date," West explains. "There's times when people have been wrongfully incarcerated that had to wait for a trial date."

But ending cash bail has other repercussions as well.

The money is split between the Circuit Clerk's Office and the Sheriff's Office and averages around $500,000 annually for Winnebago County.

If the bill passes, those funds would be gone.

Felony murder:

Finally, a third major reform would eliminate a felony murder charge. That's when someone dies while a felony is being committed, even if you weren't the one who committed the murder.

"It is an important way to keep people accountable, particularly in Rockford, Illinois in 2020 and 2021," Hanley explains. "We need that tool in our tool box."

Shortly after our Friday afternoon interview with Hanley, he issued a public statement. It reads:

“I fully support criminal justice reform. However, I cannot support House Bill 163. First, I am gravely concerned about the manner in which HB 163 is being considered. Specifically, the 611 page proposed bill is being presented during an abbreviated 'lame-duck' session where stakeholders and lawmakers do not have the opportunity to appropriately deliberate such a complex and sweeping piece of legislation. Second, and most importantly, provisions of this bill will lead to increases in violent crime, undermine public safety, and deny justice to crime victims. If passed, HB 163 will thwart our Office’s ability to carry out its mission: ‘To seek justice.’”

As a reminder, this bill will need to be voted on before the new legislature is seated on Wednesday.

But in a phone call Friday evening, West says amendments to this bill are in the process of being drafted, and, on Saturday, committees will meet to continue discussion.

Whether this bill is changed, or has the votes to pass, will be more clear in the next few days.

We will be following any and all developments.

Richard Bodee

Richard Bodee is a reporter at WREX. He joined the 13 WREX team in June 2019 after graduating from DePaul University with a Master’s degree in broadcast journalism.

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