Editorial | Dispute over wisdom of no-bond policies creeping into public view

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Leniency is being confused with issue of fairness in the criminal justice system.

Downstaters may not have caught on yet to the dueling criminal justice policies on display up north, but they foreshadow a statewide brawl beginning Jan. 1.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s recent caustic comments about Cook County judges’ releasing too many accused criminals on low or no bond generated a sharp backlash among those who approve of that approach.

They castigated the former federal prosecutor as an opponent of fairness in the courts, evening suggesting Lightfoot doesn’t know the first thing about criminal law.

But in a backlash to the backlash, DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Bernlin last week made a point of informing the public that Cook County’s catch-and-release policy isn’t flying in his jurisdiction.

Berlin informed the public of two recent criminal cases in which individuals charged with armed robbery are being held without bond until trial.

“These types of crimes are extremely serious and, consequently, those accused of such will experience the full force of the law from apprehension through prosecution,” he said in a news release.

It is extremely rare for prosecutors to issue press releases about what happens in arraignment court, the first step in a lengthy process that concludes with trial. That’s why Berlin’s message is crystal clear.

He’s not buying Illinois’ new policy that favors releasing alleged wrongdoers charged with all but the most serious of crimes without bond.

In a groundbreaking policy change blessed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the bond system will disappear in Illinois on Jan. 1. From that point forward, all individuals charged with crimes will either be released outright or held until trial.

Gone will be the long-standing policy of allowing judges to consider the offense charged and the history and character of defendants in determining what bond, if any, should be set before the individual charged is released.

Backers of this new leniency are convinced that when the abolition of bond has been implemented, virtually everyone charged with a crime will be released outright.

It’s already in place in Cook County. But what about the rest of the state?

DuPage County’s example suggests that it and some other counties may not be as profligate with outright release as proponents expect.

Is it likely that some, perhaps many, judges faced with two stark choices — outright release or held until trial — will opt for the lesser public safety risk of holding more defendants who might have been released on bond without bond. No question.

After all, many criminal defendants come to court with prior records, both juvenile and adult.

Proponents of this revolutionary change are driven by concerns that those charged with criminal offenses are victims of an unfair system that penalizes poor and minorities. They argue that these defendants are “innocent until proven guilty in a court of law” and that any confinement prior to conviction is unjust.

It’s certainly true that the state has the obligation at trial to prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” hence the innocent until proven guilty claim.

But that proposition applies to trial, not the process of charging a defendant with a crime. To file criminal charges, the state must find “probable cause” to accuse the defendant with committing a crime. If there’s no probable cause, a defendant cannot be charged.

So there’s more to this issue than accurate, but misplaced, statements about the state’s legal burden of proof. How much more will be determined once the no-bond provision of the “SAFE-T” social justice reform law takes effect in January?

While there is much doubt about the wisdom of this approach, there is no doubt that Pritzker and the legislative majority that passed this law are enthusiastic proponents.

But they’re true believers, motivated by claims of a monopoly on wisdom in the criminal justice system.

Everyone else is waiting with bated breath to see how this dramatic roll of the dice plays out.

Ino Saves New

via rk2’s favorite articles on Inoreader https://ift.tt/U4SQPBa

June 19, 2022 at 10:42AM

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