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Repeat violent criminals to face long-term lockup

[AUG. 13, 2005]  CHICAGO -- In his ongoing effort to help keep Illinois communities safe from gun violence, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich recently signed into law House Bill 1039, a bill that creates stiff new penalties for habitual criminals -- identified as individuals who have been convicted of two or more violent crimes -- who are caught with guns. The governor's action Aug. 2 will help reduce gun violence by putting those who repeatedly endanger neighborhoods in prison.

"Step by step, we're working to free our communities from the bondage of gun violence," Blagojevich said. "We made monumental progress by closing the gun-show loophole that for so long provided criminals with an easy avenue for obtaining guns. Today, we're telling those who contribute to the violence over and over again that they need to change their ways or they're going to do serious time behind bars. We're not going to stand by and let our schools, streets and neighborhoods be victimized."

House Bill 1039, sponsored by Rep. James D. Brosnahan, D-Oak Lawn, and Sen. Martin A. Sandoval, D-Cicero, creates a new offense, "armed habitual criminal." The bill states that people with two or more past convictions for any of a list of specific violent crimes -- including first-degree murder, sexual assault of a child, arson, robbery, home invasion and gunrunning -- are in violation of this law if they receive, possess, sell or transfer a firearm.

Nationally, according to Bureau of Justice statistics, 18 percent of state prisoners and 15 percent of federal prisoners were armed when they committed the offense for which they were imprisoned. Among those who carried a firearm during the offense, about 8 percent of state and federal prisoners carried military-style, semiautomatic weapons. These firearms included the UZI, Tec-9 and MAC-10 handguns and AR-15 and AK-47 rifles. Among inmates in prison for more serious offenses such as murder, rape, sexual attack, robbery and assault, 30 percent of state offenders and 35 percent of federal offenders carried a firearm while committing the crime.

"This new law sends a message to felons that being in possession of a firearm will not be tolerated," said Brosnahan, who sponsored the legislation in the House. "This initiative makes state penalties for firearm possession by felons more in line with federal penalties. Project Safe Neighborhoods has resulted in taking violent felons off the streets because they have continued to carry guns. Unfortunately, since federal resources are limited, many who deserve federal prosecution are dealt with in state courts, where penalties are less severe. This law changes that, and as a result our communities will be safer."

Habitual criminals have a proven history of terrorizing communities and a record of associating with others who have chosen a lifestyle of crime, which can include gang members, drug dealers and gun traffickers. For these criminals, House Bill 1039 will serve as a deterrent to stay away from guns or receive prison sentences of six to 30 years, the equivalent of a Class X felony. The bill also requires truth in sentencing, meaning the convicted offender must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence.

"With this legislation the message is clear: Guns have no place on our streets," said Sandoval, Senate sponsor of the bill.

House Bill 1039, effective immediately, builds on the governor's continuing effort to stop gun violence in Illinois, including the following:

  • In July, the governor signed legislation closing the gun-show loophole that allowed gun buyers to avoid comprehensive background checks. Senate Bill 1333 requires gun sellers at firearm shows to request background checks for potential gun purchasers.

  • In June, the governor signed House Bill 524, House Bill 132 and House Bill 35, which imposed harsher prison sentences for individuals convicted of a crime using a firearm. The bills included mandatory prison time for second or subsequent offenses.

  • The governor also signed House Bill 348, which requires that if anyone attempts to get a Firearm Owner's Identification Card but is denied, state police must report the person's name and address to the local law enforcement agency where the person lives.

  • The governor announced $3.9 million for Operation CeaseFire programs in Illinois in the coming fiscal year, including seven $250,000 grants for communities that will receive funding for the first time. Last year, Blagojevich increased funding for CeaseFire to expand from five Chicago communities to 15 communities around the state.

  • In March, the governor created an elite gun trafficking police unit to stop the flow of crime guns into Illinois. The gun unit works with federal authorities and law enforcement agencies from Indiana and Mississippi to detect and capture gunrunners and illegal dealers. More crime guns flow into Illinois from Indiana and Mississippi than from any other state.

  • The governor has pushed strongly for the state assault weapons ban currently being considered by the legislature. The legislation would ban assault weapons and .50 caliber rifles -- extremely dangerous weapons -- in Illinois. The ban would outlaw weapons such as UZIs, AK47s and TEC-DC9s.

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On Aug. 2, the governor also signed several pieces of legislation to help victims of crime recover physically, emotionally, mentally and financially.

  • Initiated by Attorney General Lisa Madigan and sponsored by Sen. Kwame Raoul, DľChicago, and Rep. Constance A. Howard, D-Chicago, Senate Bill 416 allows victims of violent crime, including domestic violence victims, who must relocate for safety reasons to qualify for reimbursement for the first month's rent, security deposit and other reasonable relocation expenses. The law is effective Jan. 1, 2006.

  • "This new law will be crucial in helping domestic violence victims find assistance to break the cycle of violence," Madigan said. "We must ensure that our financial assistance system helps victims and their families escape abusive settings. It's hard enough for domestic violence victims to scrape up the strength to leave. They should not have to scrape up a security deposit and first month's rent as well."

  • "This is a wonderful law because it helps victims of violent crimes," said Howard, sponsor in the House. "I appreciate Governor Blagojevich for signing this important piece of legislation and Attorney General Lisa Madigan for helping to initiate it. The goal of this bill is help reduce the financial burden imposed on victims of violent crime and their families."

  • House Bill 1134 allows expenses for care and counseling by licensed clinical professional counselors to be reimbursed for victims of violent crime. Before, only expenses for licensed clinical psychologists and licensed clinical social workers could be reimbursed. Sen. Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, and Rep. Robert W. Pritchard, R-Sycamore, sponsored the law, which is effective Jan. 1, 2006.

  • "The intent of the legislation is to offer victims of crime more choice when seeking the treatment that they need to recover and rebuild their lives," Radogno explained. "By allowing these individuals to be reimbursed for professional counseling, Illinois is taking one more step towards providing much-needed care for victims of violent crime."

  • Sponsored by Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Pontiac, and Rep. Eileen Lyons, R-Countryside, House Bill 701 states that in addition to a prison sentence, the court may order a defendant to pay restitution; further, the prison sentence of the defendant is not a mitigating factor that could prevent restitution. In determining the amount of time in which the defendant should pay, the court can take into consideration the defendant's assets. When long-term physical or mental health care is required for the victim as a result of the offense, the court can order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim in fixed monthly payments. The defendant's payments will continue for as long as the long-term care is necessary. The court can change the fixed monthly amount if there is a substantial change in the defendant's or victim's financial condition or in the cost of the long-term health care.

  • For certain sex offenses -- even if the defendant had the charges reduced due to a plea agreement -- the bill allows the court to order an offender to pay for a victim's medical, psychological or other rehabilitative treatment.

  • "When a person commits a crime with such long-term ramifications, then the person responsible should pay for the victim's medical costs," said Rutherford, sponsor in the Senate. "This legislation is one small step toward addressing this very serious offense and helping victims of abuse receive the care that they need to recover."

[News release from the governor's office]

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