Ending cash bail is ‘unconstitutional,’ Illinois judge says

Midwest

(NewsNation) — A judge has moved to stop the elimination of cash bail in Illinois, calling it “unconstitutional.”

Illinois had originally been going to eliminate cash bail in the new year under the SAFE-T Act. The act notably changes one fundamental tenet of state jurisprudence by eliminating the posting of a cash bond — a practice long used to ensure the accused appears at trial, but which critics say penalizes the poor.

However, 65 of the state’s 102 counties sued over the reform approach, which has been a lightning rod for controversy.

Kankakee County judge Thomas Cunnington wrote in his ruling over the lawsuit that the SAFE-T Act “creates new classes of offenses exempt from bail which are not included in the Constitution; it utterly abolishes monetary bail as an option for a judge to utilize to ensure a criminal defendant’s appearance in court; and contradicts the constitutional standard regulating when a defendant may be held without bail,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

Unless the state Supreme Court steps in, the cash bail portion of the Criminal Justice Reform Act could be a no-go in the countries that filed a lawsuit.

It will still, however, take effect in many counties, including Cook County, Illinois’ most populous, which includes Chicago. Additionally, the Chicago Tribune reports, Cunnington’s ruling affects only the pretrial release provisions of the law, leaving all other measures of what is known as the SAFE-T Act intact.

Currently, anyone detained for a crime in Illinois is assigned a bail amount in order to be released from pretrial detention. Anyone posting 10% of that amount is released prior to their trial.

Now defendants will first have a hearing to determine if they will be held at all prior to trial. The hearing will then take into account the severity and the type of the crime and if the person could be considered a flight risk or a threat to public safety.

There are at least 10 major locales that have passed cash bail reform nationwide since 2019. But none have completely done away with cash bail like in Illinois’ new law.

Multiple studies have found that reducing or removing cash bail does not lead to an uptick in crime or people skipping on court dates.

In addition, research shows these reforms leads to more people pleading their cases in court rather than simply pleading guilty.

For example, in New York, an analysis done by the Times-Union found of 100,000 cases impacted by the state’s new bail reform laws between July 2020 and June 2021, just 2% led to a rearrest for a violent felony.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, 12% of inmates in 2012 were being held because they couldn’t pay bail amounts of $2,500 or less. By last year, that number had dropped to 2.4%, the New Jersey Monitor reported — yet those released without bail showed up to court 97% of the time. That’s the same number as those who were released on bail.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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