By Pat Pratt
The elimination of cash bail is halted in Madison County for now, following a circuit judge’s ruling which struck down that portion of the Illinois SAFE-T Act.
Kankakee County Circuit Court Judge Thomas W. Cunnington issued an order Wednesday in a lawsuit filed by 65 Illinois counties, which held the bail reform and pretrial release provisions of the Pre Trial Fairness Act portion of the larger bill were unconstitutional.
“Because, as the Illinois Supreme Court has determined, the administration of the justice system is an inherent power of the courts upon which the legislature may not infringe and the setting of bail falls within that administrative power, the appropriateness of bail rests with the authority of the court and may not be determined by legislative fiat,” Cunnington wrote in the order.
With Madison County as one of the plaintiffs, the order was a welcome one for State’s Attorney Thomas Haine, who has been an outspoken critic of the elimination of cash bail provisions of the act. In a news release Thursday, he called the move by the general assembly an attempt to amend the state constitution through legislative overreach.
“Thankfully, due to this ruling, the elimination of cash bail has been halted in Madison County for now,” Haine stated. “But, this is far from over. We expect the defendants to appeal, and if so, Madison County will continue the fight against this law in the court system along with the other litigating parties.”
Cunnington in his order also stated had lawmakers wanted to end cash bail, they should have posed the question to the voters. The circuit court ruling has no effect on other provisions of the wide-sweeping SAFE-T act, including law enforcement training standards and a mandate that all agencies employ body cameras.
Proponents of eliminating cash bail in Illinois have made clear they intend to appeal, including Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit along with state attorney general Kwame Raoul and legislators. He indicated in a news release following the ruling the fight would head to the Illinois Supreme Court, describing the circuit court ruling as a “setback.”
“The General Assembly and advocates worked to replace an antiquated criminal justice system with a system rooted in equity and fairness,” Pritzker stated. “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.”
The Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice, which supports the elimination of cash bail, in a statement following the ruling called the judge’s ruling as “as political as the frivolous lawsuits that spurred it.” The organization said it expects the circuit ruling will be “swiftly” overturned by the state supreme court.
“While many counties have diligently worked to prepare for the end of money bond, the State’s Attorneys behind these lawsuits have been working to preserve one of the greatest racial and economic injustices in our legal system,” the organization states. “The Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice stands by the Pretrial Fairness Act and is ready to work with the stakeholders in all counties to ensure that the law is successfully implemented after the supreme court responds to today’s ruling.”