DuPage lawmakers want tougher penalties for no-show defendants

Two DuPage County legislators want to toughen the state's "Failure to Appear" laws to combat a spike in the number of criminal defendants posting bail and never returning to court to face their charges.

The proposal comes in response to concerns raised by DuPage State's Attorney Robert Berlin about the number of defendants - many charged with crimes such as possession of child pornography, burglary, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, residential burglary and aggravated DUI - who are trying to avoid prosecution.

DuPage prosecutors say they've charged 200 more felony cases through July 31 than during the same period in 2017. They say that increase, combined with the enactment of the state's new Bail Reform Act, has led to a significant jump in defendants posting bail and fleeing.

"When defendants do not show up in court and do not return 30 days later, my office indicts them for violation of bail bond," Berlin said Thursday.

"The problem is that violation of bail bond carries a penalty one class lower than the case they are on bond for," he said. "So for someone on bond for a Class 4 felony who fails to show up to court, the violation of bail bond is only a Class A misdemeanor."

To address that, Republican lawmakers Michael Connelly and Peter Breen want to make legislative changes to make bail bond violations the same class penalty as the original charge.

Berlin said 208 defendants failed to appear in court through July of this year, compared with 119 during the same period in 2017.

He said that increase is tied to the Bail Reform Act of 2017, which became effective Jan. 1.

The act allows individuals arrested on charges of minor crimes to get a rehearing of their bail amount if they can't afford to post cash. Other options also are available for those in custody for nonviolent misdemeanor or low-level felony offenses that may include electronic home monitoring, curfews and drug counseling.

"My proposed legislation would not get rid of the new bail provisions found in the Bail Reform Act, but would instead, strengthen the penalties on those who fail to come back on their court date," state Sen. Connelly said. "These individuals must be held accountable, and I think one way to do that is to create stricter laws against bail bond violators."

State Rep. Breen said the increase in offenders not returning to court can be traced to the number of defendants who live outside the county.

"The issue of criminal activity increases in DuPage County has troubled us since (Berlin) informed us we are on track for some very, very poor outcomes this year," he said. "I know my residents are feeling this in terms of increased crime. Our retailers are reporting those increases as well."

"The problem is we have folks who are coming into our county, offending, leaving and never coming back," Breen said. "We have to have the tools to ensure those folks are held accountable and that they're brought to justice."

Berlin said: "When defendants do not show up in court, the people of the state of Illinois are denied a prompt result and prompt disposition to these cases and the public is put further at risk. This is not criminal justice reform. Victims of crime and the people have a right to have cases properly adjudicated in a prompt manner."

Once the final bill is drafted it will be assigned to a committee in the Senate and set for hearing.

Democrat Laura Ellman, who is challenging Connelly in the Nov. 6 election, criticized the proposal, saying it will drive jail populations higher and increase poverty.

"Earlier this year, Mike Connelly introduced a bill to reinstate the death penalty in Illinois and now he's proposing legislation that essentially doubles the penalties on people who don't show up for their a court hearing," Ellman said Friday. "What Mike Connelly clearly fails to understand is that enhancing penalties, especially for technical violations like failure to attend a court hearing, doesn't deter crime or correct behavior. Incarceration rates in Illinois have drastically increased the past 40 years, in large part because of pretrial policies like this one Mike Connelly is proposing."

Democrat Terra Costa Howard, who is opposing Breen, did not reply to requests for comment on the proposal.

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