No-shows climb 16% in La Salle County under the SAFE-T Act

State’s attorney calls for reversal of presumption of pre-trial release in violent cases

Judge Cynthia Raccuglia, speaks with drug court coordinators Maranda Johnson and Selenia Arteaga in the courtroom on Wednesday Nov. 3, 2021 at the La Salle County Government Complex in Ottawa. The program began in April 2020. The program currently has six individuals that are enrolled. To qualify for the drug court program, you need a referral from an attorney and be convicted of a specific felon. In addition, there is a drug court act that clarifies what is acceptable and what isn’t. A risk assessment is also conducted. The program is grant funded.

The police searched the vehicle and seized 11 pounds of purported horse tranquilizer. The driver wasn’t exactly sorry and told the interviewing officer, “This is how I pay my bills. Everyone has to eat.”

A year ago, a La Salle County judge would have ordered 35-year-old Teren Overbeck held on at least $1 million bond. But the Los Angeles resident was charged with trafficking after the SAFE-T Act abolished cash bonds and he was released with an ankle bracelet. According to court records, he cut the bracelet and now is a fugitive.

Overbeck is not the only one. Since the abolition of cash bonds last fall, more and more felony suspects are skipping court dates and forcing the issuance of bench warrants. According to data furnished by the La Salle County State’s Attorney’s Office, warrants issued for failure to appear have risen by 16% year over a year.

La Salle County State’s Attorney Joe Navarro said he wasn’t the least bit surprised by the increase.

“A blind man could have seen this coming,” said Navarro, no fan of the SAFE-T Act.

“The people who occasionally get in trouble, were brought up responsibly, they’ll come to court,” Navarro said. “It’s the repeat offenders and the recalcitrants who find a way to beat the system, and this is one way handed to them by the Legislature.”

Navarro’s first assistant, Jason Goode, conducted a review of the 2023 and 2024 no-shows. He agreed the totals were padded by individuals who are deliberately flouting the courts.

“Some of those felony suspects failed to appear multiple times before we either get them in or issue a warrant,” Goode said.

Navarro said he resolved, when no-cash bail was implemented, to “pick his battles” and oppose release in instances where a suspect presents a direct threat to another’s safety or to the public at large. To that end, he and his staff have pressed for detention in gun cases, domestics and other violent offenses.

But Navarro said case-by-case detention hearings are not enough to protect the public. The SAFE-T Act gives all suspects the presumption of pre-trial release. Navarro said lawmakers should reverse that presumption in the most inherently dangerous cases, such as the murders, home invasions and drug trafficking cases.

Navarro said the Illinois General Assembly gives him little hope the act will be amended any time soon. Two local lawmakers said he’s likely correct.

State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, opposed the SAFE-T Act from its inception and favors major amendments to better protect the public going forward. That’s not the prevailing sentiment within the controlling Democratic Party, however.

“There is no appetite to make changes to the SAFE-T Act in Springfield,” Rezin said. “We will only see changes if we see this trend across the state and if the state’s attorneys come together and say this is a major problem.”

State Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa, said he has not seen data from other judicial circuits to show whether failure-to-appear warrants are rising elsewhere and becoming a statewide problem. Nevertheless, Yednock said anyone waiting for Springfield to simply overhaul the SAFE-T Act shouldn’t hold their breath.

“I would confirm there is no chance of change in Springfield at this time,” Yednock said. “I think the advocates would want a longer time horizon to see if this is a temporary or more permanent feature.”

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