As the bulk of a highly controversial criminal justice reform law went into effect in Illinois this weekend, the state's Supreme Court halted the implementation of a particularly contentious provision, namely the one that would have eliminated cash bail, as Fox News reports.
Amendments to the so-called Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today (SAFE-T) Act were signed into law earlier this month by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, and as a result, the use of cash bail in the state by those charged with crimes after Jan. 1 was slated to end.
However, as Fox News notes, the high court in the state issued an eleventh-hour stay on Saturday halting implementation of that change, doing so in order to “maintain consistent pretrial procedures throughout Illinois while questions on the constitutionality of the measure are litigated.
As the Daily Wire reports, just last week, a judge in Kankakee County held that cashless bail is unconstitutional, and the policy articulated by the SAFE-T Act would not go into effect in any county that had sued to stop its implementation.
“Had the SAFE-T Act gone into effect on January 1, 2023, while litigation is pending, the administration of justice in Illinois would have been uneven, thus harming citizens of the state,” said Kane County State's Attorney Jaime Mosser and DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin in a statement issued jointly.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul had already pledged an appeal of the Kankakee County ruling and noted in the wake of the high court's last-minute decision, “Only the Supreme Court's final decision on the merits will be binding on all Illinois courts.”
“It is important to note that the order issued today by the court is not a decision on the merits of the constitutionality of the SAFE-T Act, and I appreciate the court's interest in expediting the appeal,” Raoul added.
The SAFE-T Act, authored largely by the state's Legislative Black Caucus, has been the source of ongoing controversy, and, in addition to the end of cash bail, introduced a requirement that police wear body cameras by 2025, banned police chokeholds, added new guidelines for “decertification” of law enforcement officers, and more, as NBC 5 in Chicago noted.
Other parts of the act, which did go into effect on Sunday, included limits on when criminal defendants can be declared flight risks, added a 48-hour window for those under electronic monitoring to be able to leave home before being charged with escape, and introduced a prohibition on the arrest of non-violent trespassers – all facets of the law that have drawn the ire of critics on both sides of the aisle.
Despite the temporary reprieve on ending cash bail, as Fox News reported separately, it is clear that law enforcement agencies across Illinois are bracing for what they fear could be the devastating fallout from the act's other provisions.
Franklin County Sheriff Kyle Bacon told the outlet, “We've spent a lot of time trying to prepare for what's coming. Trying to sift through a thousand pages to determine where our role is and what's going to change and how we can best serve the citizens that we protect has been first and foremost for us.”
“My focus has been to ensure that the people that commit certain crimes, that they can remain in jail,” Bacon added. “We work very hard to provide the best services we can, and sometimes we feel like we're paddling upstream.”
Sounding the alarm about the type and number of offenders he thinks the law will help keep on the street, Bacon said that based on his reading of the act, “there's not a drug offense other than one involving a firearm or a high-level drug offense that is detainable.”
Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau put things rather more bluntly, telling Fox News, “When I said that this is the most dangerous law I've ever seen, I believe that,” and precisely how bad things may get in Illinois as a result of its passage, only time will tell.