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Murder, Arson suspects still detainable in Illinois

The claim: Second-degree murder, Arson and other serious felonies will become ‘non-detainable offenses’ in Illinois

Starting in 2023, the state of Illinois is eliminating the use of cash bail in its criminal justice system.

That change is spurring debate and concern about what the pretrial process will look like and what impact it will have on public safety in Illinois, with rhetoric heating up as elections approach.

“This is insane,” wrote one Facebook user, sharing a graphic that claimed second-degree murder, Arson and nine other crimes would now be “non-detainable offenses.” The Sept. 8 post was shared nearly 6,000 times in three weeks.

The image further stated that “after being charged with the crimes listed, those arrested would be released without bail pending a court date.”

But the post misrepresents the changes to the legal system, according to both advocates for the change and a prosecutor who has been critical of the law.

The new pretrial system has a process to detain suspects charged with violent felonies, and most charges listed in the post fall into that category. Two of the crimes listed fall into a gray area where they may or may not be detainable depending on specifics of the incidents, the attorneys agreed.

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USA TODAY reached out to the apparent author of the graphic and the social media user who shared it for comment.

Nearly all crimes in post are still detainable before trial

Cash bail is being eliminated in Illinois through the Pretrial Fairness Act, part of a larger set of criminal justice system changes signed into law in February 2021.

Starting Jan. 1, there will be new pretrial release processes and pretrial services required in Illinois courts, according to the website of the statewide task force working on the implementation of the changes. The task force has been holding town halls throughout Illinois to provide guidance and did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The new law says suspects charged with felonies designated as Class 3 or above can still be detained before trial if prosecutors can demonstrate they pose a risk of fleeing, according to both Sarah Staudt, director of policy at the Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts, who supports the law, and Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley, who has been publicly critical of it.

Nine of the 11 crimes listed in the post – second-degree murder, arson, robbery, burglary, intimidation, aggravated battery, kidnapping, drug-induced homicide and threatening a public official – are Class 3 or higher, both said. Certain violent felonies, including Class 4 charges such as domestic violence, may also result in detention if a judge determines the suspect poses a danger to the public.

“It’s not going to be ‘The Purge,’” Staudt said, referring to comments she has seen and heard that compare Illinois to a 2013 movie in which all crimes become legal.

The other two offenses listed in the post are aggravated fleeing and aggravated DUI. Both would typically be Class 4 felonies, according to Staudt and Sharlyn Grace, senior policy adviser in the Cook County Public Defender’s Office.

Grace, however, noted that if someone faces those charges while already on pretrial release, probation or parole, that person could be detained because of the new infraction. She also noted judges cannot currently detain defendants on those charges without bond, meaning the new system is in that sense “actually an increase in detention power.”

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that second-degree murder, Arson and other serious offenses will become non-detainable offenses in Illinois. A new pretrial process goes into effect in 2023 that eliminates cash bail in the state. But it creates other policies that will lead to the pretrial detention for many suspects charged with violent felonies, and most charges in the post fall into that category.

Our fact check sources:

  • Sharlyn Grace, Sept 29, Email exchange with USA TODAY
  • J. Hanley, Sept. 27, Telephone interview and Sept. 27-29 email exchange
  • Sarah Staudt, Sept. 26-29, Phone interview and email exchange with USA TODAY
  • Rockford Register Star, Sept 9, State’s Attorney: More than half of Winnebago County Jail to walk out door Jan 1
  • Capitol News Illinois, May 18, What’s in the SAFE-T Act? A look at the 2021 criminal justice reform and how it has evolved
  • Associated Press, Sept. 15, Illinois law doesn’t make murder, other crimes ‘non-detainable’ offenses
  • The Civic Foundation, Jan 13, What the Data Tell us about Bail Reform and Crime in Cook County
  • Illinois Supreme Court Pretrial Implementation Task Force, June 7, Press release
  • Coalition to End Money Bond, accessed Sept. 29, Fake newspaper about pretrial reforms hits Illinois mailboxes
  • Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, July 15, 2021, The 2021 SAFE-T Act: ICJIA Roles and Responsibilities
  • IL.gov, accessed Sept. 29, Full text of Illinois SAFE-T Act

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