Illinois cash bail questions raised by SAFE-T Act ruling will be settled by IL Supreme Court

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Tuesday, January 3, 2023
Illinois Supreme Court will settle SAFE-T Act cash bail questions
The Illinois no cash bail law questions raised by a Kankakee County court ruling on the SAFE-T Act will be settled by the state's Supreme Court,

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The fate of cash bail in Illinois now in the hands of the Illinois Supreme Court, and it could take weeks or longer before the court settles the question of whether it was constitutional for lawmakers to have eliminated it under the SAFE-T Act.

Bond court was supposed to be very different in the new year, but a lower court ruling last week created a wave of confusion about the status of the cash bail provision of the act, prompting the state supreme court to step in.

READ MORE: IL Supreme Court halts Pre Trial Fairness Act, preventing no cash bail provision from taking effect

Judges handling bond court continued to set cash bail for defendants Monday. One man caught with a gun over the weekend was ordered held on $50,000 bond; under the new law, he may have been released.

"Every day that we keep the money bail system in place, we keep an unjust system in place," said Sarah Staudt of Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts. "We have people who are sitting in jail right now, thousands and thousands of people across Illinois, who are held in custody solely because they don't have the money to pay their way out."

RELATED: Illinois bail reform change blocked after judge rules portion of SAFE-T Act unconstitutional

Supporters of eliminating cash bail are frustrated that a Kankakee County judge ruled on Dec. 28 that the cash bail elimination provision of the SAFE-T Act was unconstitutional. The ruling prompted the Illinois Supreme court to put implementation of the new law on hold on New Year's Eve, to prevent confusion in different courthouses around the state.

"They want to maintain pretrial consistency procedures across the state and if they allowed it to go into, be enacted on January 1 you would have had a huge portion of the state not allowing cash bail anymore and another portion of the state allowing it, so it makes perfect sense," said former Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Bob Milan.

The Illinois Supreme Court has agreed to handle the appeal on an expedited basis, but if other similar cases offer any insight, a former Illinois solicitor general suggests it could still take perhaps two months for the court to decide if it was constitutional for lawmakers to eliminate cash bail.

"They understand that staying a new and important law go from going into effect is significant, and that if that they're going to strike down the law or uphold the law either way that decision needs to be made relatively quickly," said Prof. Carolyn Shapiro, Chicago Kent College of Law.

Legal experts disagree on the basis for the constitutional challenge.

"I think what's frustrating is that the easiest way to avoid confusion would have been for the Kankakee court to have made the correct ruling in the first place, and that the law was constitutional. That's what ultimately the root of this confusion is a politically motivated, frivolous lawsuit," said Staudt.

"The allegations are that the act usurps the power of the judiciary. And the state constitution it allows for individuals to be bailable. It says it very clearly and those powers are inherent to the judiciary," Milan said.

So for now judges will continue to be able to order defendants held on bail. The Supreme Court will next set a schedule for briefs and potentially oral arguments on the merits of the law with a critical constitutional question hanging in the balance.