A juvenile sentencing reform bill that passed in the General Assembly last week is awaiting the governor’s signature.
Looking ahead, the bill would have little effect on juvenile crime sentencing in Morgan County, according to local officials. Assistant State’s Attorney Chad Turner, who handles the majority of juvenile court cases in the county, says that the way the bill is written will only have effect on juvenile crime if it meets a very narrow set of circumstances: “What this new language in this bill applies to is a situation that has come up maybe once or twice in the ten years that I have been here. I should maybe clarify that there is three parts to this new language that they added to the Juvenile Court Act. The first part deals with jurisdiction and transfer to adult court. We’ve never done that in the ten years that I’ve been here. There are three crimes that automatically get transferred to adult court, and that’s murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, or aggravated criminal sexual assault. We have never charged a juvenile with any of those crimes since I’ve been here.”
The second part of the bill, and probably most involved, is surrounding juvenile transfers to adult court that aren’t automatic but are called presumptive, which includes juveniles committing felony crimes over the age of 15 while being a part of an organized crime unit or gang. Turner says gang crime just never appears in most rural areas of the state, especially in Morgan County.
The final portion of the bill makes changes to when sentencing of a juvenile occurs in adult court. He says the judge will now have to consider multiple factors in determining the juvenile’s sentence. Proponents of the measure say that it will give judges more discretion to not sentence using mandatory minimums, especially in cases where human trafficking, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, or if the juvenile was in the state’s welfare system may be mitigating factors. According to Capitol News Illinois, these laws are sometimes called “Sara’s Law” after Sara Kruzan, a survivor of child sex trafficking who killed her trafficker in 1995. After being sentenced to life in prison, Kruzan’s sentence was later commuted, allowing her to be paroled in 2013. In 2022, Kruzan was granted a pardon by California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Opponents of the bill say that judges are already taking into account mitigating factors during sentencing in any case. State Senator Steve McClure of Springfield, the former lead prosecutor in the juvenile division in the Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s office, argued that some of the provisions in the bill already have similar considerations in law.
Turner says he doesn’t feel that the law is redundant for the state as a whole: “Most statutes when it comes to sentencing, they say the judge is to take into consideration X, Y, and Z; and then, they’ll also say X, Y, and Z but they’ll also have a section say that the judge can take into account anything that they find to be relevant. A lot of the things that they talk about in this bill, I think, would be brought up by any competent defense attorney and would be taken into account by a judge. This specifically says the judge is to start taking them into account. I don’t think it’s redundant. I just think it deals with a very, very narrow area of law that just doesn’t come up in Morgan County much.”
Turner says in his decade in Morgan County, he’s only seen 1 case that would have fallen under this bill’s lense during sentencing. Turner says larger counties like Sangamon County will largely be affected by the bill’s guidelines due to the sheer number of juvenile offenders and some of those juvenile offenders’ connections to gang activity or being trafficked.