SAFE-T Act’s end to cash bail paused by Illinois Supreme Court

SAFE-T act photo

| Photo courtesy of Illinois Policy

The Illinois Supreme Court stayed the controversial no-cash bail provisions of the SAFE-T Act Dec. 31, halting the elimination of cash bail statewide while the lower court’s decision is heard on appeal.

The order targeting the pretrial provision of the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equality-Today Act came just hours before the omnibus bill was set to take effect Jan. 1. Illinois would have been the first state to end cash bail as a way for defendants to go free until trial, considered as unfair to low-income resident who are often held in jail as wealthier defendants go free.

The high court’s temporary order was made after a Kankakee County judge ruled against the pretrial release portion of the act for 65 Illinois counties Dec. 28 on the grounds it violated the Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights and separation of powers sections of the Illinois Constitution.

The justices ordered the stay to “maintain consistent pretrial procedures throughout Illinois” counties while they consider the state’s appeal to the Kankakee County ruling.

No hearing date has been set, but justices announced plans for an “expedited process” to review the appeal on the merits. All other provisions of the criminal justice reform bill went into effect as anticipated Jan. 1. The act phases in police body cameras by 2025, regulates police training and discipline, among other things.

In his ruling, Circuit Judge Thomas Cunnington sided with 65 of Illinois’ 102 state’s attorneys, citing the importance of the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches. Cunnington said, “The appropriateness of bail rests with the authority of the court and may not be determined by legislative fiat.”

But Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul disagreed. He appealed the lower court decision on behalf of the state, arguing “a judge’s discretion with regards to pretrial detention is expanded” under the new reform.

Despite the disagreement, legal experts on both sides lauded the Illinois Supreme Court for moving to pause the reforms and prevent unequal enforcement of the new law across Illinois.

“We are very pleased with the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision,” wrote the DuPage and Kane County state’s attorneys in a joint statement. “The equal administration of justice is paramount to the successful and fair administration of our criminal justice system.”

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