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Judge rules portion of SAFE-T Act ending cash bail is unconstitutional

A Kankakee County judge has ruled that the portion of the state’s controversial SAFE-T law that ends cash bail is unconstitutional.

The judge’s ruling late Wednesday came just four days before cash bail was abolished across Illinois as part of a sweeping criminal justice reform bill.

in his judgment, Kankakee County Chief Justice Thomas W. Cunnington wrote, “The adequacy of bail is subject to the powers of the courts and not to be determined by statutory law.”

Attorney General Kwame Raul said in a statement that the ruling was binding only in a limited number of judicial circuits across the state, covered in 64 cases challenging the law under Cunnington. Emphasized. Cook County was not among them.

However, Raul said he plans to appeal the judge’s ruling directly to the Illinois Supreme Court.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the ruling would stop next week’s cash bail ending.

Cunnington’s previous lawsuit was the result of nearly 60 combined lawsuits by sheriffs and prosecutors across the state, alleging that the law violated the Illinois Constitution.

Removal of cash bail will allow judges to decide whether defendants indicted since the beginning of the year will be held while they await trial on alleged crimes, and whether they may pose a threat or flee. It is hoped that a determination will be made as to whether

At oral arguments last week, Kankakee County State Attorney James Lowe urged Cunnington to return the law to the Illinois legislature, where legislators would be forced to pass the provision “the right way, the safe way.” said.

Darren Kinkeed, of the Illinois Attorney General’s office, argued that Lowe and the group of prosecutors and sheriffs suing to stop the law had “very strong feelings”. He said they boiled down to policy disagreements and not legitimate legal disputes.

Proponents of the law, which has been heavily criticized throughout the 2022 election cycle, is meant to address longstanding public safety problems, mistrust of police and a system that allows wealthy defendants to get out of prison. said.

Gov. JB Pritzker recently signed several changes to the bill into law, which lawmakers passed on the final day of this month’s veto session.

One of the proposed amendments addresses a number of political attack targets. The amendment added felonies and crimes such as second-degree murder, kidnapping, and arson to the charges that would qualify someone to be detained while awaiting trial.

The amendment also set out guidance for those already in prison, including the option for detainees and prosecutors to petition a hearing to determine whether the accused should be released.

In a statement Wednesday night, Pritzker called the ruling “a setback” and said he looked forward to appealing it to the Illinois Supreme Court.

“The General Assembly and its supporters worked to replace the outdated criminal justice system with one rooted in fairness and impartiality,” read Pritzker’s statement. “We cannot and should not defend a system that failed to keep people safe by giving people who are a threat to their communities the ability to pay to get out of prison.”

Richard Kling A criminal law professor at the Chicago Kent College of Law said Wednesday he was not surprised by the verdict.

“The arguments that were raised were all meritorious and not frivolous,” Kling said. He noted that Cunnington did not issue an injunction with his ruling. This means that the ruling does not stop jurisdictions not included in the plaintiff’s lawsuit from enforcing the provisions of his SAFE-T Act. But Kling expects judges and prosecutors across the state to likely delay implementing the legally mandated bond reforms until the state’s Supreme Court decides.

In Cook County, judges, prosecutors and staff have been trained on the provisions of the SAFE-T Act for months, but Kling said the decision could have minimal impact. said. Cook County prison population has decreased dramatically since 2017 when Chief Justice Timothy Evans reorganized the bail court and imposed restrictions on the use of bail.

“I don’t think there will be much change in Cook County,” Kring said.