A man was arrested for domestic battery and had to appear in Cook County domestic violence court. He paid his bond and was released. Then he was charged and arrested again while out on bond. Those cases were still pending when he was arrested for violating an order of protection and finally taken into custody.
“The guy just bonded out over and over and over again and kept violating,” said Melanie MacBride, who is a managing attorney at the Metropolitan Family Services’ Legal Aid Society.
Advocates for domestic violence and sexual assault say the situation she described shows the flaws in how the criminal justice system handles domestic violence now, and makes the case for a revamp: A revamp like the one outlined in Illinois’ recent criminal reform laws, which included the landmark Pretrial Fairness Act.
But associations of sheriffs, police chiefs, police unions and state attorneys came out in force to oppose the measure before the governor signed the bill.
GOP representative Patrick Windhorst of Metropolis, who is a former state’s attorney in Massac County, said the reforms may be detrimental to victims of domestic violence.
“There is no middle ground, and judges may be reluctant to hold someone in jail on a misdemeanor offense without bond,” Windhorst said. “And so we'll have to see how it works in practice.”
The cries from conservatives to support survivors ring hallow to Amanda Pyron. She’s executive director of The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence, which operates the state’s domestic violence hotline. The organization was part of a wide-ranging coalition supporting the bill.
“In actual fact, survivors gained quite a bit through the Pretrial Fairness Act, including greater access to notification and orders of protection,” she said.
Plus, Pyron said the current cash bail system preys on Brown and Black communities through over criminalization of offenders and survivors alike.
“This notion that you can't have a justice system that is fair and impartial, that also provides justice to survivors. That’s just simply not true,” she said.
Sen. Robert Peters, a Chicago Democrat who sponsored the measure to get rid of cash bond, said opponents are not listening to advocates for survivors of gender-based violence.
“A lot of the people who are opponents were concerned around survivors and victims,” he said. “Except what makes the pretrial fairness (act) effects so amazing is survivors who helped shape the piece of legislation.”
One change that supports survivors is expanding options for getting an order of protection options that are limited now.
“Here we are, in 2021, and you've got places in Illinois where survivors have one day a week they can get an order of protection,” said Pyron, with the domestic violence hotline. “And now with criminal justice reform, they could get an order of protection at a bond hearing at any point.”
Republicans warn that other changes to bond hearings could be harmful to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs recently panned a provision that states a defendant has the ability to compel complaining witness to appear and testify at a bond hearing.
He gave an example at a press conference.
“The court orders that rape victim to appear at that bond hearing, which could have been hours or days after the attack to stand in front of the judge and also within a few feet of her attacker. This is not how we should treat victims of crime in Illinois,’’ he said. “It is morally wrong.”
This argument leaves out important details about timing of the hearings that benefit survivors, said Sarah Staudt, an attorney and policy director at the Appleseed Center for Fair Courts.
In Cook County, those bond hearings now can be short as two to five minutes. They're usually the day after an arrest. That means often prosecutors don’t have time talk to domestic violence and sexual assault victims at all.
The new law says when there’s a possibility of a defendant being jailed, there's a 24 hour to 48 waiting period. Staudt said this is a welcomed change.
“They have time to go talk to the victims, have time to figure out what the situation is with the person who got arrested,” she said. “What their family's situation is, what their employment situation is, and lots of other things that are relevant to whether or not jail should be used. That we would only want to use as a last resort.’’
MacBride of the legal aid society said, “What is unknown under the legislation that was drafted, is whether or repeat violators will be held.”
In many cases, she said, the survivor doesn’t want the accused jailed because financial support would be unavailable if the accused was held.
Peters said there is still work to be done. A risk assessment tool for judges is part of what’s under the act as is a task force on how domestic violence cases should be handled.