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By Pat Pratt
After the Illinois Supreme Court recently upheld a law eliminating cash bail in the state, several local officials are offering their thoughts on the ruling.
The state supreme court on July 18 upheld the Illinois Pretrial Fairness Act, a ruling which ended the plying of cash bail in Illinois. The ruling follows the legislature’s passage of the act, contained in the more encompassing SAFE-T Act, in December along partisan lines.
Proponents of the court’s recent decision and ending cash bail in the state argue the practice disproportionately affects defendants with limited financial means and that judges can guarantee court appearances and public safety through other legal mechanisms.
Opponents argue it makes streets less safe by releasing criminals right back into the community, creating a revolving door of arrest. There are also concerns without any surety in place, defendants will not appear in court.
In a joint news release, two of the county’s top criminal justice officials offered their thoughts on the court’s decision. Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Haine and Sheriff Jeff Conner said while it was disappointing and they disagree, they will honor the justices’ decision.
“We are disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision, and respectfully disagree with it,” the release reads. “But our constitutional structure gives our Illinois Supreme Court the final say in interpreting our State Constitution, and we will continue to uphold and follow its decisions.”
The officials said the litigation had the effect of allowing more time to prepare for the date it takes effect. Both officials and previous Sheriff John Lakin, were part of a bipartisan group of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs from over 60 Illinois counties who sued Gov. J.B. Pritzker to block implementation of the SAFE-T Act
“Thankfully, due to diligent work over the past months and years, Madison County will be prepared for the Sept. 18, 2023 implementation ordered by the court, and will be coordinating the local law enforcement community toward that task in the weeks ahead,” the release reads. “While rules may change, the commitment of our offices will not. We will always fight for victims of crime and strive to protect our community from lawbreakers.”
Regardless, neither agreed with the decision. Haine and Conner described the SAFE-T Act as “ill-conceived legislation” which diminishes local control.
“We remain convinced that the SAFE-T Act is ill-conceived legislation that will take discretion and tools away from our local judges, impose serious unfunded burdens on local prosecutors, delay justice for victims of crime, and ultimately make our neighborhoods less safe.” the release reads. “Obviously, its supporters disagree with that assessment. Now that the Supreme Court has allowed this law to go forward as designed, we will all know soon enough, and time will tell who is right or wrong.”
Several state elected officials weighed in on the issue as well, mostly following party lines. Democratic Party of Illinois Chair Lisa Hernandez released the following statement in response:
“Today’s ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court is a victory in the fight for a fairer criminal justice system. For too long, our pretrial detention system has prioritized wealth over public safety, and ending cash bail in Illinois is crucial to ending unjust criminalization of poverty. I’m grateful to the governor and attorney general for their unwavering commitment to building a more equitable Illinois for all,” Hernandez said.
State Sen. Erica Harriss (R-Glen Carbon) said in a statement the ruling was concerning for the criminal justice system and public safety.
“Today’s ruling is not only concerning for our law enforcement community and criminal justice system, but even more so for public safety,”Harriss said. “This Act limits our judges from using their full discretion on determining pre-trial conditions, making it difficult to combat violence within our communities. Ultimately, the poorly written SAFE-T Act is a reckless rewrite of our criminal justice system that puts victims and Illinois citizens at increased risk.”
State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Edwardsville) also issued a statement criticizing the state supreme court as being political in supporting what he called an extremist agenda by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
“It is unhealthy to our society for the judicial branch of government to become as politicized as it has become,” Plumber wrote. “The politics that has infected our highest court will now tie the hands of local judges and law enforcement who work hard every day to keep Illinoisans safe. This is dangerous to the brave men and women who serve in law enforcement, it is devastating to communities across our great state, and it is frightening to the families who just want safe neighborhoods. All of this simply because a few of our top elected officials kowtow to activists and are completely disconnected from the realities their constituents face every day.”
State Rep. Charlie Meier (R-Okawville) said he voted against the issue on the first round and stood by his position following the court’s decision.
“I voted against eliminating no-cash bail when this law passed in 2021. The Illinois Supreme Court’s decision to support the elimination of cash bail will set criminals free that should otherwise remain behind bars. I am very disappointed with the ruling made by the Illinois Supreme Court Democrat majority that was elected by Governor Pritzker. I have always stood with our police and will always back the men and women that wear the badge each day to help keep our communities safe.”
The ruling is set to take effect on Sept. 18.