Criminal law

Illinois is set to become the first state to eliminate cash bail. Here’s what it means.


SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — The Illinois Supreme Court on Tuesday paved the way for it to become the first state in the country to cancel cash bail, standing up against prosecutors and sheriffs in the Metro East and statewide who defied a move that would transform the state’s criminal justice system.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday set a Sept. 18 implementation date for the measure, which overrides similar reforms in other states that have limited cash bail but not ended it entirely.

The bail procedure was one of the most controversial elements of a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill, dubbed the SAFE-T Act, which was signed into law in January 2021 by Illinois Governor JB Pritzker. Supporters argued that cash bail creates an unfair system where the poor are left in jail to stand trial while those with money are set free.

“We can now move forward with the historic reform to ensure that pretrial detention is determined on the basis of the risk an individual poses to society rather than their ability to pay the price of getting out of prison,” Pritzker said in a statement on Tuesday.

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Illinois’ move to end cash bail comes amid a wave of similar reforms across the country, including legislation in… New York, New Jersey and ca.

In neighboring Missouri, cash bail still exists, but it saw important reforms when the Missouri Supreme Court in 2019 created rules limiting its use. The court ordered that judges consider non-monetary terms of release, including GPS monitoring and house arrest, when possible.

Results have been mixed domestically. The St. Louis city courts have largely moved away from cash bail, and have applied it less than 8% of cases last year. Bail amounts were mostly small, too: for the year, the total bail amounted to just $350,000.

In St. Louis County, circuit court judges have used cash bail more often, and issued more than $5.2 million in cash bail last year, according to the county. Ministry of Justice services.

Tuesday’s ruling settles a series of lawsuits brought by sheriffs and state attorneys from more than 60 counties across Illinois, including Madison, Clinton, Monroe and Bond counties in Metro East, which argued that the state constitution guarantees that “all persons shall be liable to sufficient guarantees. “.

The 5-2 decision overturns a January ruling by a Kankakee County judge who found that the state constitution “does not provide that bail is the only means of ensuring that criminal suspects appear for trial or the only means of protecting the public.”

What does “no bail” mean for Metro East?

Under the new law, Illinois courts will end the long-standing practice of guaranteeing someone’s appearance in court through cash deposits that the defendant would lose if he failed to appear. But this does not mean that all suspected violent offenders will be released.

Judges will still be able to detain those accused of serious and violent crimes if they are deemed to be an escape risk or a significant danger to the community.

Sgt. St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department. James Hendricks said the department plans to work with prosecutors to continue to keep those facing violent charges in jail without bail while they await charges.

“It’s not going to be like most people think we’re going to open the doors and let everyone out,” Hendrix said on Tuesday. “More than 85% of our prison inmates are already violent offenders with serious charges.”

Hendricks said the department was already training to prepare officers for changes in arrests and prison bookings. He noted that the cash bail had already diminished in the county, although it was still in use.

“We may not all like it, but we will certainly follow the law as it is written in the books,” he said.

Several Republican elected officials in Metro East criticized the ruling on Tuesday claiming the measure would pose a public safety risk in the area, including Madison County Attorney General Tom Hain and Madison County Sheriff Jeff Connor, who were parties to the lawsuit that was the focus of Tuesday’s ruling. . .

Connor and Hayne said they “respectfully disagree” with the ruling, but would follow the Supreme Court’s decision.

“We remain convinced that SAFE-T is ill-considered legislation that will take the discretion and tools away from our local judges, impose serious unfunded burdens on local prosecutors, delay justice for crime victims, and ultimately make our neighborhoods less safe,” the statement read.

State Rep. Amy Elek, R-Alton, also spoke out against the decision on Tuesday, saying it “ties the hands” of law enforcement and “will get many incarcerated felons back on the streets much faster without having to post cash bail.”

State Sen. Jason Plummer, Republican of Edwardsville, called the ruling “dangerous to the brave men and women who serve in law enforcement” and “terrifying to families who just want safe neighborhoods.”

Meanwhile, the Illinois Pretrial Justice Network, an advocacy group that supports reform, hailed the landmark ruling as ending “one of the most egregious injustices in our criminal legal system” that disproportionately affects poor black communities.

The action “will improve community safety by keeping millions of dollars in the most marginalized communities in our state each year,” the organization said in a statement. “Giving people the opportunity to remain in their communities while awaiting trial will enable them to keep their jobs, their housing and custody of their children, making us all safer.”

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