Friday, July 18


Six new bills address problems in
Illinois' criminal justice system

Illinois first state to enact law requiring electronic recording
of all homicide interrogations and confessions                      
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[JULY 18, 2003]  CHICAGO -- At a press conference at Woodson Library on Chicago's south side on Thursday, Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed into law six bills aimed at eliminating serious problems that have raised questions about the integrity of Illinois' criminal justice system in recent years.

By approving House Bill 223, Blagojevich made Illinois the first state in the nation to require by statute that police record all custodial interrogations and confessions in homicide cases. Two other states, Minnesota and Alaska, were forced to adopt similar requirements in response to court decisions.

"It is our moral duty to restore the integrity of the criminal justice system as we know it today in Illinois," said Blagojevich. "The bills I am signing today will help make our system more transparent."

The new interrogation and confession recording requirement comes in the wake of 13 exonerations of death row inmates in Illinois, some resulting from substantiated claims of forced coercion and police brutality. The new law removes questions about coercion by giving judges and juries an opportunity to hear a defendant's responses and witness a defendant's physical condition and mental state during the interrogation and confession process.

"This new law addresses two serious problems," the governor said. "It will help reduce the number of allegations of police misconduct and false confessions, and it will prevent statements which were obtained illegally from being used against someone in court."

Under the new law, all custodial interrogations -- of juveniles and adults -- that are conducted in a place of detention must be recorded electronically. Statements that are not recorded or are taken in violation of the law will not be admissible in court. The law allows courts to admit unrecorded statements by a preponderance of the evidence if the statement was voluntary and reliable based upon the totality of the circumstances. Law enforcement units have two years from the day the law was signed to develop and implement their recording procedures.

"As many of you know, as a former prosecutor I had some serious reservations about mandating taped interrogations. However, when you have a system that can allow an innocent person to be sent to death row based on a questionable confession, we are obligated to intervene," the governor added. "I salute Senator Barak Obama, Representative Monique Davis, the law enforcement community and the other hardworking legislators who negotiated tirelessly to craft a bill that will remove many doubts and suspicions surrounding our criminal justice system."

Another significant piece of the new criminal justice package is Senate Bill 30, sponsored by Sen. Barak Obama and Rep. Monique Davis. The bill is intended to end the practice of racial profiling by helping law enforcement assess the extent to which race may be a factor in police stops. Recent high-profile lawsuits in several Illinois communities called attention to unfair practices by which some officers target racial minorities for traffic stops and searches and pressured local police to institute racial data collection procedures to prevent racial profiling.

Illinois joins 14 other states in mandating that law enforcement agencies statewide collect data on racial profiling. Under the new law, officers will be required to document the perceived race of every individual pulled over for a traffic violation. The Illinois Department of Transportation will be responsible for collecting and analyzing the data. The new requirement goes into effect Jan. 1, 2004. IDOT will release its findings every July, starting in 2005 and ending in 2007.

In addition, the law provides for enhanced cultural diversity training and sensitivity training in relation to racial profiling during traffic stops.


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"Racial profiling is an insidious form of racism," said Blagojevich. "Simply being a member of a minority group is not justification for suspicion. We will not tolerate the unfair harassment of law-abiding minorities. With this study, police supervisors will now be able to measure and eliminate racial profiling on their forces."

The third bill Blagojevich signed Thursday resolves a loophole in current law that creates a double injustice for people who are found to be innocent after having been convicted. In the rare instances when individuals are found to be factually innocent of a crime for they've been convicted, the arrest and conviction records stay with the person until he or she has applied for and been granted expungement, which can make it difficult or impossible to secure housing or employment.

Senate Bill 423, sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford and Rep. Larry McKeon, requires local law enforcement units to automatically expunge the arrest record of a person who is found to be innocent after having been convicted and requires the Illinois State Police and courts to seal all proceedings and prior decisions related to the overturned conviction. In addition, the new law establishes an expungement program through the state appellate defender's office that will provide information about the expungement process to individuals who may qualify to have their records cleared or sealed.

"A critical piece of this criminal justice reform puzzle is helping people reclaim their lives and reputations if they are found innocent after being wrongly convicted of a crime," said Blagojevich.

The governor signed another bill Thursday dealing with sealing records. Senate Bill 788 allows offenders who have been arrested for misdemeanors and then acquitted, sentenced to supervision, or had their conviction reversed to ask the court, local police and state police to seal their records after three years if they are not convicted or put on supervision for other offenses during that time. Those convicted of misdemeanors can have their records sealed after four years of good behavior.

"Rep. Connie Howard has been working diligently for years to help ex-cons rebuild their lives and become productive members of our society. The measures I'm signing that give convicts a reasonable second chance once they've proven that they've turned their lives around are testament to her persistence," the governor commented.

House Bill 3316, sponsored by Rep. Arthur Turner and Sen. Rickey Hendon, requires the Department of Human Services to include the Department of Corrections in their efforts to help hard-to-place individuals, including ex-offenders, find jobs. The new program is intended to reduce the rate of recidivism among ex-offenders by helping them find steady employment.

House Bill 569, sponsored by Rep. Mary K. O'Brien and Sen. Barak Obama, creates procedures for certificates of relief and good conduct which ex-offenders can use to demonstrate to potential employers or licensing authorities in 15 specific professions that he or she is viewed to have good conduct and should be relieved from disabilities relating to his or her crime. The bill also extends the law prohibiting attempted disarmament of a police officer to cover correctional institution employees.

"Each one of these six pieces of legislation stands as an important improvement to our criminal justice system," said Blagojevich. "But taken together, they represent a huge step forward in recognizing the rights of defendants and helping offenders re-enter society after they've served their terms. Again, I'd like to thank the sponsors of these bills and representatives from the law enforcement who recognized the problems our justice system faces, and came up with solutions we all agree will make the system stronger."

[Illinois Government News Network
press release]

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