- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 28, 2016

September 23, 2016

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Bogus jury bill goes down drain

Good riddance to judicial rubbish.

Taxpayers in each of Illinois’ 102 counties can breathe just a little bit easier thanks to a court decision that saves them from an unwise, unwanted, unaffordable and unfunded state mandate.

Two years ago, a lame-duck General Assembly threw a bone to trial lawyers by reducing the size of juries to six members and ordering county officials to raise jurors’ pay.

On Thursday, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously overturned the legislation, holding that it violates the Illinois Constitution that guarantees citizens a 12-member jury. Taxpayers stand to save a bundle as a result.

The decision stems from a Cook County civil case in which Associate Judge William Gomolinski concluded late last year that the six-member jury edict violates Article 1, Section 13 of the 1970 Constitution.

The language at issue states, “The right of trial by jury as heretofore enjoyed remains inviolate.”

The key phrase there is “as heretofore enjoyed.” Judge Gomolinski, first, and the state high court, second, each concluded that the phrase “as heretofore enjoyed” included a right to a 12-member jury.

“This court has long interpreted the phrase … to mean ‘the right of a trial by jury’ as it existed under the common law and as enjoyed at the time of the adoption of the respective Illinois Constitutions,” Chief Justice Rita Garman wrote for the court.

Garman wrote at length about both the history of common law as it relates to jury size as well as about the debate on the issue during deliberations on the 1970 state Constitution. Based on both, Garman concluded “jury size is an element of the right that has been preserved and protected.”

Noting that legislators’ decision to increase the pay of jurors went hand in hand with their decision to reduce the size of juries, Garman said the court had no choice but to declare the legislation “entirely invalid.”

Increasing juror pay raised hackles among county officials statewide because it dramatically increased costs without providing the funding to pay those increased costs. On its face, the legislation appeared to be another mindless decision by ignorant legislators to force increased costs on another level of government.

But as is often the case in Illinois, the real story regarding jury size and pay was mostly hidden from public view.

This bill came out of nowhere in December 2014, passed after brief deliberations over three days on party-line votes. Democrats favored the bill while Republicans opposed it.

It was, in brief, another exercise of extraordinary power by Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. The Chicago Tribune reported at the time that the legislation was a gift to trial lawyers as a reward for past and future campaign contributions.

Trial lawyers favor six-person juries because their research shows they award more generous cash judgments than 12-member juries.

Although touted publicly as a measure to reward and encourage jury participation, the legislation actually was a prime example of insider politics.

Nonetheless, it raised a juror’s pay to $25 for the first day and $50 for each subsequent day. At the time, Champaign County paid jurors $10 a day, Ford County $15 a day and Douglas County $25 a day. Vermilion County paid $20 for the first day and $30 for each subsequent day.

Given the severe budget constraints many counties faced, the extra costs posed a severe burden, one now that will be lifted.

The court’s decision, however, does raise a vexing question. What about all those cases decided with a six-person jury? Given that the court has ruled a 12-person jury is a fundamental right, are cases decided by a six-member jury now open for review?

The legal system doesn’t need this headache, and it wouldn’t have it if politics didn’t trump policy in the General Assembly.


September 23, 2016

Sauk Valley Media

Training young drivers on traffic stops

A new state law will require student drivers to be instructed on what to do and what not to do when they are pulled over by police.

Given recent high profile cases around the country of traffic stops resulting in unnecessary deaths or other complications, we think the law is a good one.

According to a story last week by Northwest Herald reporter Jordyn Reiland, the law’s intention is to prepare teen drivers for routine traffic stops, teaching them not to panic or do anything that might put an officer on guard that could lead to the stop escalating into a more serious situation.

The secretary of state’s office is in the process of developing guidelines, which should include training young drivers on what not to do with their hands and arms, such as reaching under a seat or reaching around to the backseat, which can raise a red flag for the responding officer.

Lake in the Hills Police Chief Dave Brey told Reiland that providing the additional tools on how to handle a traffic stop is necessary given the lack of formal education now.

“We concentrate on teaching them the rules of the road, but we don’t tell them what to do in the event that they get pulled over by a police officer,” he said.

When he was teaching his daughter how to drive, Brey said they were pulled over and she “panicked behind the wheel.” It’s a common reaction, especially with young drivers, but it can also create tension that leads to the stop not being so routine.

The new law signed last month by Gov. Bruce Rauner will require all private and public schools that offer driver’s education courses to put the new curriculum in place for the 2017-18 school year. Driver training schools providing instruction to teens younger than 18 also will be expected to add the traffic stop training.

Learning how to drive can be stressful enough for teens and their parents. Teaching young drivers how to appropriately act if they are pulled over makes sense.


September 22, 2016

The (Bloomington) Pantagraph

Pilot program a start toward bail parity

If you’re arrested, whether you stay in jail is largely determined by what you (allegedly) did and where you did it.

In McLean County, more likely than not, you’ll stay in a cell unless you can pay a higher bond.

The change comes as McLean County participates in a statewide pilot program on establishing a uniform bond evaluation. Judges are setting fewer lower and personal recognizance bails based on information in the evaluations, so more defendants are staying in jail.

Misdemeanor and felony charges are classified by their level of severity, with the highest level, Class X, reserved for the most serious. Convictions for a misdemeanor can bring as little as a fine, with a Class X felony carrying a possible prison term of six to 30 years - and more if certain factors come into play.

Bail, the amount a person arrested must pay for release from custody, is similarly structured, with judges given discretion with a framework of rules. Often, defendants can post 10 percent of the bail amount, plus a court fee of $35.

In some courts, judges also allow “PR” or “I” bonds, which are personal recognizance or individual bonds. Those involve no money, basically just a written promise the person will return for the next court appearance.

Obviously, lower bonds and PR bonds are the least expensive, and thus easiest, to post. But for those who cannot come up with the fee, the only alternative is to stay in custody - and that can lead to a higher jail population.

In the pilot program, judges are provided an evaluation form from court services that asks the same questions of all defendants. The answers, and the charge, determine a recommendation on bond and whether the person is an appropriate candidate for release.

One local judge has opened her calendar to allow for more bond-reduction hearings, giving attorneys and defendants an opportunity to plead their cases for a lower amount. The state’s attorney’s office reviewed the inmate list to see if there were prisoners whose offenses were so minor that they could be released (one was; he was charged with failing to show up in court on another charge).

McLean County has worked hard to reduce its inmate population over the last several years. Some inmates were jailed, rather than hospitalized, because of mental health issues; others could have been released into monitored programs; still others stayed at the jail because of a lack of space in Illinois prisons.

The Illinois justice system has a lot of places where work is needed. In getting it addressed, other problems will arise. McLean County is working on jail expansion that will provide enough space for all the prisoners it houses, as well as space for inmates with mental health needs.

But until it’s built, our county may need to pay to house defendants in other counties unless a review of the standardized bond evaluation addresses the process that has increased the recent spike in jail census.


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