Illinois Democrats passed a law to eliminate the cash bail system as part of the reform of the state’s criminal justice system. The new law was set to take effect on Sunday, January 1, 2023, but the Illinois Supreme Court halted the measure Saturday.
At the time of the bill’s passing in February 2022, Democrat Governor JB Pritzker said of the SAFE-T (Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity – Today) Act, “Transforming the pretrial detention system so low-income people aren’t thrown behind bars while only the wealthy walk free, diverting low-level drug crimes into substance-treatment programs and reducing excessive stays in prison.”
In total, 12 non-detainable offenses will no longer require cash bail:
- Second-degree murder
- Aggravated battery
- Drug-induced homicide
- Aggravated fleeing and eluding
- Aggravated DUI
- Drug offenses
- Threatening a public official
Republican Mayor of Orland Park, Keith Pekau, is an outspoken critic of the new law saying at a recent press conference, “It denies victims their constitutional rights. And keep this in mind, businesses and homeowners will no longer be able to remove trespassers from your residence or your business. Someone could decide to live in your shed, and all we can do is give them a ticket. You have to decide what level of force is required to remove them and whether or not it’s legal. This is a massive threat to the residents of Orland Park, Cook county in Illinois.”
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On Thursday, Kankakee, Illinois County Judge Thomas Cunnington ruled that parts of the SAFE-T Act violate Illinois’ Constitution. In his decision, Judge Cunnington wrote, “Because, as the Illinois Supreme Court has determined, the administration of the justice system is an inherent power of the courts upon which the legislature may not infringe and the setting of bail falls within that administrative power, the appropriateness of bail rests with the authority of the court and may not be determined by legislative fiat”
While the Illinois Supreme Court has not halted the entirety of the SAFE-T Act, the Court announced online that it would stay the Pretrial Fairness Act, which is the law that includes the cashless-bail reform. The Pretrial Fairness Act is part of the larger SAFE-T Act. The stay will remain in effect if the justices do not issue a new order.
The law was brought before the Illinois Supreme Court when half of the state’s elected prosecutors sued to prevent the law from taking effect.
Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell, who is an advocate of the Act, said upon receiving news of the stay, “We are confident that the Supreme Court will swiftly reverse the lower court finding and confirm the constitutionality of the Pretrial Fairness Act. In the meantime, we are grateful that the court is providing uniform guidance to courts across the state. Money bond is a deplorable practice, and it is high time that Illinois abolish a system that punishes people – most of them Black and Brown – for being poor. We decry the frivolous lawsuit that was brought against the Pretrial Fairness Act almost two years after it was signed into law.”
The Illinois Supreme Court does intend to hear the appeal on an expedited basis and should release an opinion regarding the SAFE-T Act and whether or not it will still take effect and when.