(The Center Square) – After months of debate over the pros and cons of the criminal justice package known as the SAFE-T Act, a judge has ruled the ending of cash bail in Illinois is unconstitutional. But confusion remains because the decision only affects those counties that filed lawsuits challenging the measure.
Judge Thomas Cunningham ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, 65 district attorneys and sheriffs from around the state who filed lawsuits claiming the Pre-Trial Fairness Act was unconstitutional.
The judge said the SAFE-T Act violated the separation of powers and the Victims’ Rights Act, noting that the Illinois Supreme Court previously ruled that judges have “independent, inherent authority to deny or revoke bail to ‘preserve the orderly process of criminal procedure.’”
The cashless bail provision in the SAFE-T acted limited judges’ discretion in setting cash bill to only specific crimes.
According to the Kankakee County State’s Attorney, the ruling means the bail reforms spelled out in the law will not take effect in the 64 counties that filed lawsuits challenging the measure. During a news conference Thursday, state Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis, said that is not an ideal situation.
“So we are here now with potential chaos that may ensue beginning Jan. 1,” Windhorst said. “We will have counties throughout the state which will have a cash bail system and counties throughout the state which will potentially not have the cash bail system or it will be eliminated.”
House Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, is calling on both sides of the consolidated lawsuits to agree to a stay on the cash bail portion of the Safe-T Act and negotiate a “fair and reasonable” cash bail bill.
“Or I would ask both parties to stay the implementation of the SAFE-T Act while this matter is under appeal,” Durkin said.
The Illinois Attorney General’s office is expected to appeal the ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker released the following statement in response to the ruling:
“Today’s ruling is a setback for the principles we fought to protect through the passage of the SAFE-T Act. The General Assembly and advocates worked to replace an antiquated criminal justice system with a system rooted in equity and fairness. 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. I thank the Attorney General for his work on this case and look forward to the Illinois Supreme Court taking up the appeal as soon as possible.”
Reaction after the verdict came in from all directions, including from State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City.
“The Constitutional concerns with the SAFE-T Act were raised on multiple occasions, but the majority party chose to ignore these arguments,” Wilhour said. “The SAFE-T Act was never about keeping communities safe. It was about infusing our criminal justice system with woke ideology and completely upending our Constitution.”