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Illinois High Court Hears Challenge To Law Eliminating Cash Bail

The fate of an Illinois law that aims to eliminate cash bail for criminal defendants is in the hands of the state’s highest court, which heard arguments Tuesday in a challenge by prosecutors who argue the measure is unconstitutional. The bail reform, part of a law known as the Safe-T Act, was supposed to take effect on Jan. 1, but the Illinois Supreme Court put it on hold, reports the Wall Street Journal. Supporters of the measure say it would rectify an imbalance in the criminal-justice system that keeps some poorer defendants in jail ahead of trial while wealthier defendants who have the means to post bail are released, regardless of the severity of their charges. Opponents say eliminating cash bail would lead to rising crime and make it easier for violent suspects to return to the streets.

Under the new law, judges could detain criminal defendants deemed a danger to the community but would stop hinging pretrial release on monetary assets. Illinois is one of nearly two dozen states that have moved away from cash bail. Its law is one of the broadest. Prosecutors and sheriffs from more than half of Illinois counties filed civil suits. They argue the Illinois constitution requires a system of monetary bail and the legislature doesn’t have the power to remove it. “In some instances where a judge would find that nonmonetary conditions are insufficient, the judge should have that tool that the people of Illinois have put in that judge’s toolbox,” Kankakee County State’s Attorney James Rowe told the court. Illinois Deputy Solicitor General Alex Hemmer, defending the state law, said the legislature could modify the bail system just as it has regulated other pretrial practices for decades. A lower court judge ruled against the cash-bail removal in December.


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