Home » Court clears way for Illinois to become first state to eradicate cash bail

Court clears way for Illinois to become first state to eradicate cash bail

by Mahmmod Shar

Gov JB Pritzker praises state high court ruling, which allows new law to take effect in September

By Emma Colton

Illinois is set to become the first state in the nation to end cash bail after the state Supreme Court ruled that a landmark state law did not violate its constitution.

A provision in the state’s controversial SAFE-T Act was set to end cash bail on Jan. 1, but it was met with legal action from prosecutors and sheriffs in dozens of counties who said the law was unconstitutional, diminished public safety and put law enforcement at risk. A Kankakee County judge ruled in December that the law was unconstitutional, which the state’s highest court overturned Tuesday.

Under the new law, judges will not require suspects charged with crimes to post bail in order to leave jail while they await trial. Suspects deemed a threat to the public or those who are likely to flee can still be required to remain in jail, CBS News reported.

The state Supreme Court’s ruling means the end to cash bail will take effect across the state beginning Sept. 18. Other states have enacted reforms to abolish cash bail for many cases, but Illinois is expected to be the first state to eliminate cash bail, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Cook County jail
Cook County Jail in Chicago (Reuters / Jim Vondruska / File)

“The Illinois Constitution of 1970 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,” Justice Mary Jane Theis wrote in the ruling Tuesday morning. “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.”

Democrat Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the SAFE-T Act last year and released a statement Tuesday celebrating the state Supreme Court upholding the law.

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

Critics say such a law should be put on a ballot for voters to decide and will leave residents less safe as suspects land back on the streets after an arrest and charges.

Cook County Jail fencing and guard tower
A Cook County sheriff’s car patrols the exterior of the Cook County Jail in Chicago on Jan. 12, 2016. (Reuters / Jim Young / File)

“Despite the defeat, I could not be more proud of all who fought the good fight,” Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe, who sued to overturn the law, said in a statement Tuesday, according to ABC 7.

“The people of Illinois deserve better than bail reform that is passed under cover of darkness at 4 a.m. when all the state was sleeping; they deserve to have a voice in any constitutional amendments through the power of their vote; and they deserve to be governed by a government of, for and by the people – not by legislative or gubernatorial fiat. That was the essence of our lawsuit and we stand for those principles still today.”

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