State lawmakers react to Illinois Supreme Court ruling eliminating cash bail
The Illinois Supreme Courtupheld a portion of the Safe-T Act which eliminates cash bail across the state, making Illinois the first state in the nation to do so.
The measure, known as the Pretrial Fairness Act, changes the procedure through which judges can detain defendants until their trial. Factors like flight risks and potential threats to the public are still considered, but cash can’t be used as a condition for bail.
Illinois’ justice system and officialshave been preparing for this change for more than a year at this point, anticipating an effective date of Jan. 1, 2023. This was before a lawsuit from State Attorneys and Sheriffs across the state put the enterprise on hold.
Now, with the court’s ruling, the new effective date is set for Sept. 18.
State Representative Travis Weaver (R-Pekin) predicts a “total disaster.”
“We're dealing with a really high crime rate environment, not only in the state of Illinois, but right here in the city of Peoria,” he said. “In July, today’s July 18, we’ve had over 20 people shot in the city of Peoria this month alone. That’s a problem. And what we’re doing by eliminating cash bail is restricting a judge’s ability to decide what they want to do for specific instances.”
Weaver acknowledges that judges can still detain under certain circumstances, but favors a more targeted approach to bail reform.
“I'm more than happy to talk about bail reform,” he said. “I think there's some things that we could have done that would have been good, but to just broadly say no cash bail, I think, is a major mistake.”
In general, Weaver said he believes the SAFE-T Act is a “bad law,” beyond its constitutionality. He calls expanded requirements for Illinois police departments a backdoor method for defunding the police.
Democratic State Senator Dave Koehler has a very different view of the ruling. He said it’s the ruling he expected, based on the makeup of the court.
“I think they did it in a very logical way of bringing forth the argument that really bail, what we're talking about as monetary bail,” he said. “There's still all kinds of other bail.”
Koehler represents portions of Peoria and Bloomington-Normal.
Koehler said, because the justice system had already been preparing for the Jan. 1 switch, he’s not concerned about a smooth transition in September. In addition, he points toward three trailer bills passed the General Assembly as sufficient efforts to clarify language and ease implementation.
“Now, I will say this, if there are other refinements that need to be made, I think the legislature is open to that.” Koehler said.
As it relates to safety, Koehler said the only way the measures could make the state less safe is if there’s a failure at some point along the chain of law enforcement.
“I think it's pretty clear that if somebody is a threat, for either not showing up, or a threat to themselves or the community, depending on what kind of a crime they committed, then the judge should keep them in,” he said. “Regardless of what their checkbook said. And this is the whole point.”
Ultimately, Koehler hopes the elimination of cash bail will create a more equitable justice system in Illinois.
You can find the full text of the SAFE-T Act here.