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Judge says Safe-T Act builds on laws supporting domestic violence survivors

Associate Judge Jennifer Clifford.
Provided by the Illinois 17th Judicial Circuit Court.
Associate Judge Jennifer Clifford.

Associate Judge Jennifer Clifford said the courts are prepared for the no-money bond system that goes into effect January 1.

Some of the misinformation put forth about the Safe-T Act claimed it would hurt survivors of domestic violence.

Associate Judge Jennifer Clifford of Illinois’ 17th Judicial District Court, which covers Winnebago and Boone County, said the law builds upon previous legislation and takes into consideration all victims of crime.

“Every spot they could in the Pretrial Fairness Act," said Judge Clifford, "they incorporated Marsy's law, they incorporated the Rights of Crime Victims and Witnesses Act into the legislation to make sure that they were constantly looking out for their rights.”

Clifford presides over the Intimate Partner Domestic Violence Court where she hears felony and misdemeanor cases for Winnebago County.

Marsy’s Law requires the state’s attorney notify victims of crimes of the court’s proceedings in their case.

“It's important that the victim knows what's going on, and then is able to give input.” Clifford said. “The State's Attorney's office doesn't represent the victim, they represent the people of the state of Illinois, but they still have an obligation under the law to keep them informed."

The Rights of Crime Victims and Witness Act defines a victim’s and witness’ rights to be treated fairly and respectfully in the criminal justice system under the Illinois Constitution.

But ensuring that actually happens has been tougher to achieve. In 2013, lawmakers created a witness protection program that wasn’t fully funded until now.

Under a new system that goes into effect January first, a judge can no longer issue a money bond. A police officer can issue a ticket and a date to see a judge for low-level offenses, unless they are deemed a danger to someone else or the community. Some of the charges where a defendant could be arrested include domestic battery, violation of an order of protection, stalking, and aggravated stalking.

“So those are all people," Clifford said, "where the State's Attorney's office if they choose would have the responsibility of filing the petition to detain or asking for conditions of release, such as no-contact orders, or any other kind of condition that the State's Attorney's office or the judge thinks would be necessary by clear and convincing evidence to protect the public and to protect the victim."

Under the provision, the state’s attorneys have 48 hours after the initial hearing to petition for detention.

Clifford said she’s unsure whether under the new law more people who come through her court will be held in detention prior to sentencing, or not.

“It will be interesting to see what happens,” she said. “So much of it is whether or not the State's Attorney's Office determines that they want to file the petition. So, they are the decision makers there. So, the court doesn't have a say or control over what petitions the state decides to file.”

Under an amendment to the law, a court cannot undo a no-contact order without input from the victim.

“So," Clifford said, "if I'm reviewing a decision to have no contact with the victim, without the victim either being present or the state putting on the record [that] they had contact with the victim and the victim agrees with this . . . So, that's something that I do in my courtroom regularly, just because I think it's the right thing to do.”

She said trainings held throughout the state by the Illinois Supreme Court have prepared the judiciary for the changes to a no-cash bail process.

“I think just information to the public, so they know what the changes are is important," Clifford said. "But I think as a court system, we're ready."

Come January first, everyone will find out.

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.