Judge rules portion of SAFE-T Act ending cash bail is unconstitutional

KWAME RAOUL

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul

A Kankakee County judge has ruled that the part of the controversial SAFE-T Act that ends cash bail across is unconstitutional.

Judge Thomas W. Cunnington issued the ruling Wednesday night and it comes four days before cash bail was to be abolished across the state.

In his ruling, Cunnington wrote “the appropriateness of bail rests with the authority of the court and may not be determined by legislative fiat.”

Adams County State’s Attorney Gary Farha, who joined the lawsuit early on, sent out a statement Thursday morning:

“Yesterday’s ruling affirms that we are still a government of the people, and that the Constitutional protections afforded to the citizens of Illinois – most importantly the right to exercise our voice with our vote – are inalienable.  The Safe-T Act was a 765 page bill passed during a lame duck session under cover of darkness at 4:00 a.m. affording legislators less than one hour to read it and vote on it, denying the general public any opportunity to offer comment or input.  It amended the State Constitution and eroded the constitutional protections of the Victim Rights Act, all while disenfranchising the people of their Constitutional right to vote on such reforms.  The people of Illinois deserve better than that, and yesterday’s ruling condemns the Act for exactly what it is: unconstitutional.

“Judge Cunningham held the Safe-T Act unconstitutional on the basis that it violates the Separation of Powers clause, violates the Victim Rights Act, and unconstitutionality amends Article I Section 9 of the Constitution because the voters were denied their right to vote on such amendments.  In his ruling, Judge Cunnington found that “had the Legislature wanted to change the provisions in the Constitution regarding eliminating monetary bail . . . they should have submitted the question on the ballot to the electorate at a general election”; he further stated that the Legislature’s actions in violation of Separation of Powers “stripped away” the Court’s ability to ensure the safety of the victim and victim’s family.  

“While others have the benefit of not having to worry about protecting the citizens of Adams County while balancing the enforcement and constitutionality of our laws, that is my job, and deciding to be a part of this litigation was my duty and my responsibility to ensure that our community continues to be a safe place to live.”

Attorney General Kwame Raoul said the ruling is binding to the judicial circuits where the 64 cases originated, but were consolidated in Kankakee County and heard by Cunnington. He also said he would appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.

“The court’s opinion does not disturb other portions of the SAFE-T Act that have been in effect for more than a year,” Raoul said in a statement. “Although the court’s decision is binding in the 64 cases that were consolidated in Kankakee County, it is important to note that it is not binding in any other case, including those involving criminal defendants in any of the state’s 102 counties. To definitively resolve this challenge to the pretrial release portions of the SAFE-T Act, Governor Pritzker, the legislative leaders named in the consolidated cases and I intend to appeal the circuit court’s decision directly to the Illinois Supreme Court, where we will ask the court to reverse the circuit court’s decision.

“Most of the SAFE-T Act’s provisions have been in effect for more than a year, and regardless of today’s circuit court decision, all parts of the SAFE-T Act, including the pretrial release portions addressed in the court’s decision, will go into effect Jan 1. For instance, the right of individuals awaiting criminal trials – people who have not been convicted of a crime and are presumed innocent – to seek release from jail without having to pay cash bail will go into effect in a few short days, despite the court’s ruling against those provisions. Illinois residents in all counties should be aware that the circuit court’s decision has no effect on their ability to exercise their rights that are protected by the SAFE-T Act and the Illinois Constitution.”

Governor JB Pritzker also issued a statement on the ruling.

“Today’s ruling is a setback for the principles we fought to protect through the passage of the SAFE-T Act,” Pritzker said. “The General Assembly and advocates worked to replace an antiquated criminal justice system with a system rooted in equity and fairness. We cannot and should not defend a system that fails to keep people safe by allowing those who are a threat to their community the ability to simply buy their way out of jail. I thank the Attorney General for his work on this case and look forward to the Illinois Supreme Court taking up the appeal as soon as possible.”

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