Safe-T Act goes in front of Illinois Supreme Court as arguments on eliminating cash bail begin

ByJessica D'Onofrio and Stephanie Wade WLS logo
Tuesday, March 14, 2023
SAFE-T Act challenge goes before IL Supreme Court
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The Illinois Supreme Court Safe-T Act hearings began Tuesday, as justices consider the constitutionality of eliminating cash bail in the state.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Illinois Supreme Court started hearing arguments about the Safe-T Act Tuesday.

The court heard arguments from both the state and challengers today, with the act's controversial elimination of cash bail taking center stage in Springfield.

"Take the question, put it on a ballot, propose it to the people, let them vote on it at an election," said Kankakee County State's Attorney Jim Rowe.

The provision was to go into effect Jan. 1 under the wide-ranging criminal justice reform bill, but it was challenged by a flurry of last-minute lawsuits from 68 prosecutors and sheriffs across the state filed lawsuits, saying getting rid of the cash bail system puts criminals back on the streets and officers in danger.

In December, Kankakee County Chief Judge Thomas Cunnington agreed with the groups and ruled the cash bail provision unconstitutional. An appeal by Attorney General Kwame Raoul sent the matter to the Supreme Court.

"This act requires them to serve, for instance, notice to appear, and then a warrant, on two occasions. We've now doubled the number of instances where law enforcement is going to come in contact with perhaps a fugitive or very dangerous individual," Rowe argued.

In court Tuesday, Deputy Solicitor General Hammer said, "The General Assembly has concurrent constitutional authority to regulate pre-trial procedure in Illinois as it is done for six decades via the code of criminal procedure."

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

That is why Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow hopes the act will be overturned.

"We feel very strongly that it's a serious public safety issue, but at the same time we want to join in the fight towards reforming bail," he said.

Judicial precedent gives the court the authority to detain people for specific reasons, Deputy Solicitor General Alex Hemmer argued, but legislators have "always" set the specific rules governing pretrial release.

"The only question is whether the detention provisions unduly infringe on judicial authority, and the answer to that question is no," Hemmer stated.

Pointing to mandatory sentencing laws passed previously by legislators for certain offenses, Hemmer noted the court has ruled they don't violate judges' authority "even though those laws restrict courts' discretion."

And the state argued there's nothing in the constitution specifying cash bail as the only option.

The constitution "doesn't require the state to maintain any particular method of obtaining pretrial release, including the system of monetary bail," Hemmer said. "The elimination of monetary bail is thus consistent with the bail clause because it safeguards defendants' rights to seek pretrial release."

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

"So the SAFE-T Act did not amend the constitution?" Justice P. Scott Neville Jr. asked.

"No, it did not," Hemmer held.

"I think the most compelling argument is that there's no language in the constitution that says you have to have monetary bill. There's no language," Raoul said.

"If bailable doesn't necessarily include cash bail, then the legislature could theoretically eliminate cash bail without revising the constitution," explained ABC7 Legal Analyst Gil Soffer.

Governor JB Pritzker said he's confident the court will uphold this key piece of justice reform.

"It's not the legislature deciding whether someone would stay in jail or not," Pritzker said. "Its judges who would make those decisions. And I think that's the right way for us to do it. It's a more fair system than to have people sitting in jail for days, weeks or months, when they just don't happen to have the few hundred dollars or couple thousand dollars."

People who oppose cash bail, the governor included, said cash bail exploits wealth disparities and puts people in jail before they've been convicted of a crime.

Studies of jurisdictions that have nearly eliminated cash bail have shown no significant increase in crime generally, nor by defendants released while awaiting trial. In some cases, defendants were more likely to return to court.

If the Safe-T Act stands, Illinois would be the first state in the nation to completely abolish cash bail.

The justices did not indicate when they will announce their decision, but a spokesman for the court previously said a ruling could take several months.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.