Chief Judge Evans announces committee on criminal court reopening

Released On 06/14/2021

In order to respond to the rights of defendants covered by the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions and the Illinois Speedy Trial Act, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans announced Monday that he had formed a committee of criminal justice stakeholders and other related groups to determine how to safely and expeditiously accelerate the reopening of criminal courts to in-person proceedings, including increasing the capacity for bench and jury trials. 

Under the Illinois Speedy Trial Act, a defendant who has been taken into custody must be tried within 120 days. If a defendant is released on bond, he or she must be tried within 160 days after filing a written demand for a trial. 

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Illinois Supreme Court tolled (suspended) the Speedy Trial Act for cases in Illinois courts, which means that state courts did not have to comply with this deadline while the pandemic limited the ability to hold in-person court proceedings. With vaccinations causing the threat of the coronavirus to recede, the Illinois Supreme Court is discussing with local stakeholders how to safely reopen state trial courts. 

“What we’re trying to do is prepare for the removal of the tolling of the speedy trial statute so that the constitutional and statutory rights of defendants can be protected,” Judge Evans said. “To do this, we have established a broad-based committee of criminal justice stakeholders and other related groups to make sure we can do this as safely and expeditiously as we can.” 

These criminal justice stakeholders include the Cook County State’s Attorney, the Cook County Public Defender, the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Cook County Sheriff, and all the presiding judges who handle criminal matters, along with members of the private bar. The Circuit Court of Cook County has continuously met with health officials throughout the past 15 months to determine how to keep participants in the justice system safe and prevent the further spread of the coronavirus. 

It should be noted that while in-person proceedings have been limited, the courts never really closed, and the administration of justice -- including hearings, bench trials, guilty pleas, findings of innocence and dismissal of cases -- have continued throughout the past 15 months. 

Between the beginning of April 2020 and the end of May 2021, about 128,000 criminal cases have been disposed in the Cook County Circuit Court, which has included nearly 13,000 guilty pleas, more than 1,000 bench trials, 27 jury trials and nearly 114,000 other dispositions, including cases being dismissed. 

The reintroduction of criminal jury trials, starting on March 22, has increased the pace of resolving felony criminal cases, and the imminent end of both social distancing requirements and the tolling of speedy trial requirements will further increase this pace. 

Among the most important reasons the courts of this country exist is to provide justice for both the victims of crime and the accused. The courts have been open and resolving these matters. It is disingenuous for anyone to say that the courts have been closed. 

The Circuit Court will have more information regarding further reopening of civil and criminal courts to in-person proceedings in the coming weeks. 


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