Preckwinkle, Public Defender, Advocates File Bill To Address Civil Rights Violations

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today was joined by Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli, First Defense Legal Aid, and others to announce the filing of legislation in Springfield to address the prevalent constitutional violations of those detained by police being denied their legal right to a phone call.

The legislation specifies that those detained by police must be given access to a phone within an hour of being brought to a station or wherever law enforcement is detaining them. The bill also ensures the arrestee is able to make three completed phone calls.

“The denial of access to a phone, not only results in the violation of the right to an attorney but deprives family members and others from knowing what happened to their son or daughter, niece or nephew,” President Preckwinkle said. “If a person is hospitalized, among the first steps taken is to notify an emergency contact – an arrest is no less disruptive to a person’s life. In the United States, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

Additionally, the bill would require information clarifying the right to have access to a phone is posted in an obvious place where those detained by police can see it.

“In order to guarantee the right to counsel, every person who is arrested must be given access to a phone before any questioning or interrogation begins,” Campanelli said. “Countless times, people have been denied the basic right to make a phone call within a reasonable time. Time and again, this has resulted in false and coerced confessions, which were used to wrongfully convict innocent people. This bill seeks to stop this abusive practice and violation of all our rights.”

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to counsel during custodial interrogations, however many times arrestees are unsure of their rights and consequentially waive them.

“Most Chicagoans can recite the Miranda rights from memory, but only 1.5 percent of Chicago arrestees got a lawyer at any point of their up-to three days in any police station last year,” said Eliza Solowiej, Executive Director of First Defense Legal Aid. “This reform eliminates an enduring policy barrier: Access to telephones to call out to let a loved one and your lawyer know where you are. Everyone has these rights, it's not supposed to just be in Hollywood crime dramas."

With the combined efforts of the Cook County Public Defender’s Office and FDLA, only 1 percent of all arrestees in Chicago had a lawyer present during interrogation, according to FDLA.

This is despite the fact that all Cook County arrestees have attorneys already assigned to them. Since March 2017, the Public Defender’s Office, through an administrative ordered issued by Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans, has been appointed to represent anyone in Cook County who is arrested and detained by law enforcement.

Commissioner Stanley Moore said it is our responsibility to protect the rights of the marginalized, underrepresented and oppressed across Cook County and throughout Illinois.

“This bill will allow any person taken into police custody with access to a free phone call,” Moore said. “We must protect their most basic civil rights and we have an opportunity with this bill to do so."

“This is about ensuring due process and protecting the rights of residents,” said State Rep. Justin Slaughter, a sponsor of the bill. “By requiring that an arrestee is granted a phone call within an hour of being taken to a station, we are working to safeguard civil rights and create a more transparent process.”

State Rep. Theresa Mah, a co-sponsor of the bill, added that the legislation takes corrective steps to ensure arrestees are not being denied their legal rights.

“This is a thoughtful approach to improving the access and availability of important phone calls and information,” Mah said.