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First day of no-cash bail sees split decisions in Peoria County court

Sun shines on the statue of Abraham Lincoln outside the Peoria County Courthouse.
Joe Deacon
The Pretrial Fairness Act, part of Illinois' SAFE-T Act criminal justice reforms, was originally set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2023.

One man has been granted pretrial release while another will stay in custody after the first day of no-cash bail in Peoria County.

The Pretrial Fairness Act went into effect across Illinois on Monday, after the state Supreme Court in July upheld the cashless bail portion of the SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform legislation.

In Peoria, the first day saw only two hearings come before Circuit Court Judge Sean Donahue. In both instances, the State’s Attorney’s office filed petitions seeking to have the defendant detained until trial.

Attorneys had to work around some administrative and procedural glitches, most notably the public defender not receiving some documents such as police reports prior to the hearings.

Donahue acknowledged some “frustration all around,” but the hearings were able to proceed amid some pauses to allow the defense attorney to review the paperwork.

One of the two defendants was charged with a Class 4 felony harassment through electronic communication. The prosecutor said the man sent text messages to the victim threatening to kill family members.

Claiming the alleged crime suggested the man poses a “real and present threat” to the community and possible bodily harm to the victim, the prosecutor argued probable cause existed to keep the man in custody.

However, the public defender said the Class 4 felony charge didn't rise to the level of a “qualifying offense” under the statute. He also pointed out a pretrial assessment showed the defendant had no prior felonies and classified him as low risk.

Donahue sided with the defense and denied the petition to detain the defendant. However, he did impose pretrial conditions, including electronic monitoring, no contact with the victim and the victim's family, a 7 p.m.-7 a.m. curfew, no possession of any weapons and no out-of-state travel without permission from pretrial services.

A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Oct. 11.

Donahue did side with the prosecution in finding probable cause warranted the detention of a man charged with a Class 3 aggravated battery. That defendant allegedly stabbed another man in the hand.

However, Donahue reserved his ruling and continued the pretrial hearing until Wednesday afternoon. That's because the defendant has another hearing scheduled Wednesday morning in mental health court on a case that predates implementation of the no-cash bail system.

Both defendants appeared by video conferencing from the Peoria County Jail. In a message to WCBU, Sheriff Chris Watkins said that while there wasn’t a lot to see on Monday, he’s curious about how the rest of the week will work out.

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.