SAFE-T Act: How it could affect attorney caseloads Sept. 18

Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 5:16 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - With the pre-trial fairness portion of the SAFE-T Act set to drop on Monday, lawyers in the Land of Lincoln could get a whole lot busier. There are multiple factors with pre-trial fairness that could increase this workload. Time will be of the essence when a person is arrested.

“All of this really has affected the criminal justice system. Whether it’s our office, the public defender’s office, the clerk’s office, the judiciary,” said Winnebago County State’s Attorney, J. Hanley.

Those accused of significant offenses must appear in court within 48 hours after arrest. Hanley says those hearings will be different.

“There’s a lot more work that will have to be done, we’ll have to determine whether someone is detainable and whether we’re going to have to file a petition to detain,” he told 23 News.

Starting Sept. 18, anyone currently in custody on bond can choose to be treated under the new law. Hanley says his office is still in the process of hiring some more attorneys.

“Defense attorneys are gonna have to go meet with their clients, have those discussions and potentially file those motions,” he said.

However, some defense attorneys in the Stateline aren’t worried about the changes. Like Doyle and James’ partner, Jonathan James.

“I don’t really see an increase in our workload,” he said.

Chris DeRango with DeRango and Cain, agrees.

“The reality is most people who get detained under the current system, there’s going to be hearings anyway,” DeRango said.

The 17th Judicial Circuit, which includes Winnebago and Boone counties, already runs Saturday court. Even though the number of hearings will increase, DeRango doesn’t see any problems.

“In our criminal division here we have four attorneys myself included. So what we will do is we’ll divide up, each of us is going to have a weekend every month where if we get retained by a new client and they have Saturday court it’s gonna be you.”

However, James admits other offices could see an increase in workload, even if his won’t.

“I do think it’s going to be a significant increase for the workload of the public defender’s office who can be appointed even for defendants who usually aren’t eligible for the public defender for the exclusive purpose of that detention hearing.”

23 News did reach out to Nick Zimmerman with the Public Defender’s Office but he was unavailable for comment.

After those 48 hours, if a person is detained, prosecutors are expected to have a trial ready to go within 90 days, which Hanley says is extremely difficult. Since this portion of the law isn’t even out yet though, he says his office has planned for it and will do their best.