SAFE-T Act provision ending cash bail constitutional, Illinois Supreme Court rules

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Tuesday, July 18, 2023
SAFE-T Act cash bail provision constitutional, IL Supreme Court rules
The Illinois Supreme Court Safe-T Act ruling declares cash bail provision constitutional.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WLS) -- The Illinois Supreme Court ruled the provision of the SAFE-T Act ending cash bail to be constitutional in a ruling Tuesday.

The landmark decision paves the way for Illinois to become the first state in the nation to eliminate cash bail.

The 5-to-2 vote comes six months after the state Supreme Court itself halted this particular provision of the SAFE-T Act from taking effect in response to legal challenges that had been filed against it.

Gov. JB Pritzker signed the SAFE-T Act into law last year. It eliminates cash bail.

The Pre-Trial Fairness Act, as it is known, was the most controversial part of the SAFE-T Act.

The cash bail provision was to go into effect Jan. 1, but it was challenged by lawsuits from prosecutors and sheriffs across the state.

"It is a very meaningful change in the way that our courts assess whether to release a defendant or not. And for years, really forever, it's been in part a question of the ability to post a bond, and now that's no longer true," ABC7 Chicago legal analyst Gil Soffer said.

Opponents of the provision said that the legislature had overreached and violated the constitution, while supporters said the practice of imposing a cash bail has led to countless people remaining incarcerated simply because they cannot afford to pay.

Supporters also said the change will make the criminal justice system more fair for defendants and victims alike.

Senate Republican Leader John Curran believes the law handcuffs judges who under the law will only be able to detain people charged with specific felony crimes.

"It has a fellow grouping of forcible felonies that a judge can consider whether you're a danger. There are many other charges where a judge can't apply that standard. That's one of the fatal flaws of this law," Curran said.

Under the law, judges will be allowed to keep considering the defendant's flight risk as well as the danger he or she poses to the community, leading to a procedural change in how bond hearings are conducted.

"That initial hearing is similar to the hearings we have now, except if we want to hold somebody in custody, a judge will have to make a record, make a finding as to why that person should be held in custody and the factors that led to that," Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx said.

And while some are calling for a special session in Springfield to tweak the law, supporters, like Foxx, believe there's been enough time over the last several years to produce a piece of legislation that can be fairly applied to all.

"The reality is simple. People charged with violent offenses should not be able to pay their way out of jail, and people who are charged with non-violent offenses who are not a threat to the public shouldn't be criminalized for being poor," Foxx said.

Last December, a judge in Kankakee County ruled the provision was unconstitutional.

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

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul filed an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case last March.

Pritzker said in a statement, "I'm pleased that the Illinois Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the SAFE-T Act and the elimination of cash bail. We can now move forward with historic reform to ensure pre-trial detainment is determined by the danger an individual poses to the community instead of by their ability to pay their way out of jail. My thanks to Attorney General Raoul's office and the many people who worked tirelessly over the last months to defend these important reforms. I look forward to continuing to work with the General Assembly and our many other partners as we transition to a more equitable and just Illinois."

Courts across the state will now have two months to get ready for the bail rules to go into effect.

Kankakee County State's Attorney Jim Rowe, who sued to overturn the SAFE-T Act, said in a statement, " A few moments ago the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the Safe-T Act is constitutional and will take effect on September 18, 2023. While this ruling is disappointing and the Act terribly detrimental to public safety, we must abide by the decision and will continue to do our best to serve the people of Kankakee County.

Despite the defeat, I could not be more proud of all who fought the good fight. The people of Illinois deserve better than bail reform that is passed under cover of darkness at 4am when all the state was sleeping; they deserve to have a voice in any constitutional amendments thru the power of their vote; and they deserve to be governed by a government of, for and by the people - not by legislative or gubernatorial fiat. That was the essence of our lawsuit and we stand for those principles still today."

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx said in a statement, "After two years of advocacy and partnership with organizations across the State, despite numerous misinformation campaigns and many other legal challenges, today, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled the Pretrial Fairness Act fully constitutional. Today's ruling ends the cash bail system, replacing that system with a detention process based on community safety and not on the financial fitness of defendants. Congratulations to every stakeholder who helped make this happen.

"Today's ruling is a monumental milestone toward achieving equal justice for all in Cook County and Illinois. It is our responsibility to address the historic inequities in our justice system. Everyone deserves a fair shot at justice, regardless of their zip code, paycheck, or the color of their skin. Ending cash bail is in line with our values and is a critical step toward economic and racial justice in Cook County and Illinois, which is why I have supported and advocated for its end from the beginning.

"I will continue to support our court stakeholders as they prepare to implement the end of the cash bond."

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson said in a statement, "Today, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the Pretrial Fairness Act, ensuring that a person's ability to pay cash bail does not unfairly dictate their presumption of innocence in the court system.

"Cash bail does not make communities safer, and it never has; it has simply exacerbated existing inequities and disparities in the criminal legal system. Pretrial detention, as a result of the inability to pay bail, further decimates communities that have long been most impacted by mass incarceration, and the destabilization of
households and families.

"I am grateful that we can move forward to implement this legislation to uphold justice and equity."

Cook County said they were ready to go on Jan. 1, so getting up-to-speed now should be a matter of refreshing the retraining courses court personnel had already gone through before the end of last year.

Illinois Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) State Lodge President Chris Southwood said in a statement, "Today's ruling by the Supreme Court confirms Illinois' status as the state of lawlessness and disorder. The court ignored the pleas of nearly every prosecutor in the state of Illinois, Democrat and Republican, that the elimination of cash bail will put dangerous criminals back on the street, instead of keeping them in jail or forcing them to post cash bail as they await trial. Many of those offenders will commit crimes again within hours of their release. And who will have to arrest those offenders again and again? The police officers whose jobs have been made immeasurably more difficult by all of the new anti-law enforcement measures that are in place. Today's ruling is a slap in the face to those who enforce our laws and the people those laws are supposed to protect."

Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow said in a statement, "Out of 102 State's Attorneys throughout Illinois, 100 opposed the Act as written. I was honored to lead the legal challenge brought by 64 of these State's Attorneys. Our mission was never to stop principled bail reform, but to ensure our criminal justice system continues to protect the safety of the law-abiding citizens of Illinois from ruthless, violent criminals. Unfortunately, the citizens of Illinois who are the sovereign authority were not consulted in this significant matter. I will continue to fulfill the oath of office to the best of my ability, and I pray to God that prosecutors and law enforcement will continue to be able to properly address violent crime and maintain the safety of our communities given the serious limitations placed on all our agencies by the Act."