Illinois will become the first state in the country to remove cash bail after the state's Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a key criminal justice reform law does not violate the state's constitution.
The opinion was released more than six months after the Pretrial Justice Act was stopped by judges just hours before it went into effect on January 1 in response to a legal challenge. The high court said the law should now take effect in September.
In its 5-2 decision, the court said the state constitution “does not mandate that bail is the only way to ensure criminal defendants appear in court or the only way to protect the public. Our constitution strikes a balance between the individual rights of defendants and the individual rights of victims of crime. The provisions of the pretrial release of the Act regulate procedures that are commensurate with that balance.”
The majority rejected the claim that the legislature had overstepped its authority by removing guarantees through the law, writing the majority opinion that “the legislature has long regulated the bail system.”
Only two Republican judges in the court disagreed, saying “the removal of monetary guarantees by the legislature is a direct violation of the plain language of our constitutional rights law and, more specifically, the rights of crime victims… This court has an absolute duty to to declare the pretrial waiver provision of the Act invalid and unenforceable no matter how beneficial the waiver of monetary guarantees may be.”
The overhaul of the bail system is one of the most controversial provisions of the widely scrutinized SAFE-T Act, a major bill that mandates far-reaching reforms to policing, judicial processes and victims' rights in the state.
The court's ruling stems from a series of lawsuits last year filed by about 60 state sheriffs and attorneys who argued that removing bail would undermine public safety, put law enforcement in jeopardy and violate the state constitution.
In December, Kankakee County Chief Judge Thomas Cunnington agreed with the group and ruled that the bail provisions were unconstitutional, although his decision would only apply to counties that have already sued.
An appeal by Attorney General Kwame Raoul sent the matter to the state Supreme Court, and the judge ordered that the entire Pretrial Justice Act would not take effect until further notice “to maintain consistent pretrial procedures throughout Illinois.”
In Tuesday's ruling, Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis said Cunnington's decision ignored the plain language of the state's constitutional guarantees clause, which never included the term “monetary,” and so did not strengthen the practice of monetary guarantees, however old and prevalent around the world. Illinois, into our constitution.”
Raoul issued a statement Tuesday morning saying “a person's experience with the criminal justice system should not vary based on their level of income. The SAFE-T Act is meant to address widespread inequalities in the criminal justice system, particularly the fact that individuals awaiting criminal trial – who have not been convicted of a crime and are presumed innocent – can spend long periods of time in prison because they cannot afford bail.”
Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx, who supports bail reform, said the ruling “is a significant milestone towards achieving equal justice for everyone in Cook County and Illinois… Ending cash bail is in line with our values and an important step towards economic and racial justice in Cook County and Illinois.”
But McHenry County State Attorney Patrick Kenneally, an opponent of the bail law, called the decision a “sad reflection of the state of ideological arrest in our three branches of government… We at the state attorney's office will continue to do everything in our power to ensure that violators it is dangerous to stay behind bars before trial or other measures, such as electronic monitoring, are taken to minimize risk.”
Despite the increase two years before bail reforms went into effect, opponents waited until late last year to make serious efforts to overturn the law, as well as a campaign of political pressure ahead of last year's state election.
In the weeks before the election, opponents derided the SAFE-T Act as a “purge bill” and claimed it would make the state — with a particular focus on Chicago — less safe by releasing more violent criminals to prey on the public.
Supporters of the Pretrial Justice Act say its provision will only remove bail as a condition a judge can set when considering whether someone is likely to return to court for their trial or pose a danger to the public.
Jurisdictional studies that nearly eliminated bail did not show a significant increase in crime in general, or by defendants being released while awaiting trial. In some cases, the defendant is more likely to return to court.
The abolition of cash bail does not mean that persons accused of crimes cannot be held pending trial.
Under the law, courts will continue to hold detention hearings for people accused of serious crimes to determine whether someone poses a safety risk if released and whether someone is likely to appear for their hearing – the same considerations that now often determine bail. .
Persons accused of misdemeanors and other misdemeanors will be released without bail or pretrial conditions. In more serious cases that meet the standard of where a person can be detained, prosecutors will be required to have a person detained and make arguments about public safety and the risk of escape.
In cases where the prosecutor seeks to detain someone, the defense attorney will be given more time to prepare for trial.
The decision on whether a person should be kept in pretrial detention can also be reviewed by the court at subsequent hearings.
DuPage County State Attorney Robert Berlin, the only Republican appointee on a state Senate panel that recommended revising bail reforms in the SAFE-T Act last fall, issued a statement calling for further changes.
“This amendment (passed in October) was very helpful in fixing many, but not all, of the anticipated problems and restoring some measure of judicial discretion at bond hearings,” Berlin said.
He called for changes that would make the law resemble New Jersey's bail laws, which largely eliminated cash bail in 2017. New Jersey's law allows judges to set cash bail when prosecutors present “clear and convincing evidence.” that they would most likely escape. , threaten or intimidate others if released before trial, or pose a threat to safety.
Although many Republican candidates made the SAFE-T Act a focus of last season's law and order campaigns, Democrats held off most challengers in what are expected to be bruising midterms for parties across the county and even expanded their majorities in the general election. State Supreme Court.
The selection of judges Elizabeth Rochford and Mary Kay O'Brien is believed to be critical to preserving Illinois' strong abortion protections, as well as the future of the SAFE-T Act. The two judges sided with the majority of the court.
Judges Lisa Holder White and David Overstreet, the only Republicans on the high court, joined the dissent.
Guarantee reform is only one part of the SAFE-T Act, several of which have already been enacted. Other steps include requiring all police departments to equip officers with body-worn cameras by 2025, expanding services for crime victims and changing the way incarcerated people are counted for re-district maps.