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Courts scramble to craft new procedures under Safe-T Act

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McLean County circuit court and all the other courts in the state are scrambling to meet an end-of-year deadline to implement the controversial Safe-T Act criminal justice reform bill. The end of cash bail is one of the well-known provisions of the state law, but there are a lot more pieces of it that will have big effects.

McLean County Court Administrator Will Scanlon said during a McLean County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting Thursday that the new order also drastically changes deadlines to appear in court for people who are released and given a court date.

"The court has to adopt a schedule to allow persons to appear on a 21-day schedule. For those appearing now, the date is 56 days, so this cuts it to a third, in some instances," said Scanlon.

It also will become more difficult for judges to issue warrants for people accused of crimes who fail to appear for a court date. Now, said 11th Circuit Chief Judge Mark Fellheimer, a judge can issue a warrant when someone doesn't show up for court. As of Jan. 1, that changes.

"They now have to issue a contempt proceeding and have that paperwork served on the defendant before a warrant can be issued, which as you can imagine is a little crazy under how things actually operate within the confines of a criminal case," said Fellheimer.

The population of the McLean County Jail will change in the new year, too — related to the end of cash bail. Probably quite a few people will either be released immediately, or have to have quick hearings about their custody. There's also conflicting language in the law about whether those hearings must be in person or by video, said Fellheimer.

Frank Beck of Illinois State University's Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development, said some people won't be in jail anymore, but the law cuts both ways

"Domestic violence case persons are likely to be held when they might have been bonded out before court," said Beck.

Scanlon said court officials statewide will be gaming out how to accomplish the changes probably through November, or early December. Then they'll shift to getting ready for the many new procedures.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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