Illinois set to become first state to eliminate cash bail after state Supreme Court rules it does not violate constitution


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois is set to become the first state in the nation to eliminate cash bail after the state Supreme Court justices ruled Tuesday that a landmark criminal justice reform law did not violate the state’s constitution. 

The opinion was released more than six months after the Pretrial Fairness Act was halted by the justices just hours before it was to go into effect on Jan. 1 in response to legal challenges. The high court said the law should now go into effect in September.

In its ruling, the court said the state’s constitution “does not mandate that monetary bail is the only means to ensure criminal defendants appear for trials or the only means to protect the public. Our constitution creates a balance between the individual rights of defendants and the individual rights of crime victims. The Act’s pretrial release provisions set forth procedures commensurate with that balance.”

The bail system overhaul was one of the most controversial provisions of the widely scrutinized SAFE-T Act, a major bill that mandated wide-ranging reforms to policing, court proceedings and victims’ rights in the state. 

The court’s ruling stems from a flurry of lawsuits last year brought by roughly 60 sheriffs and state’s attorneys who argued that eliminating cash bail would reduce public safety, put law enforcement in harm’s way and violate the state’s constitution. 

Despite a two-year ramp up before bail reform was to go into effect, opponents waited until late last year to mount a serious effort to overturn the law, as well as a political pressure campaign ahead of last year’s statewide elections. 

Supporters of the Pretrial Fairness Act said its provisions would simply remove cash bail as a condition that could be set by a judge when considering whether someone was likely to return to court for their hearings or posed a danger to the public. 

“I’m pleased that the Illinois Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the SAFE-T Act and the elimination of cash bail,” Gov. JB Pritzker said. “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.”

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