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Home » SAFE-T Act 2023: Illinois attorney general files brief with state Supreme Court contesting ruling that blocked bail reform
CHICAGO– The Illinois Attorney General’s office on Thursday filed its opening plea in the state’s highest court to overturn a ruling by a judge that found portions of the controversial SAFE-T statute unconstitutional.
Among the goals of the landmark criminal justice bill was the abolition of cash bail in the state, which would have made Illinois the first state in the nation to do so.
READ MORE: Illinois cash bail issues raised by the SAFE-T Act ruling will be decided by the IL Supreme Court
Bail reform was supposed to go into effect Jan. 1 but was halted at the last minute after Kankakee County Chief Justice Thomas Cunnington sided with a group of prosecutors and sheriffs who opposed the law.
Opponents filed 64 nearly identical lawsuits against the reform, known as the Pretrial Fairness Act, but they were consolidated into a single case before Kankakee County Chief Justice Thomas W. Cunnington.
RELATED: IL Supreme Court stops Pre Trial Fairness Act, preventing no cash bail provision from going into effect
On Dec. 28, Cunnington ruled that part of the law violated a constitutional requirement that defendants be released on bail “by adequate suretyships,” except for certain felonies. He also noted that this violated the separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature.
“The adequacy of bail is within the authority of the court and should not be determined by statute,” Cunnington wrote in his ruling.
In its Thursday filing, Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office argued that Cunnington’s decision was “flawed” and argued that this state constitution does not require Illinois to “maintain a cash bail system.”
RELATED: Illinois bail reform amendment blocked after judge found part of SAFE-T law unconstitutional
“The district court’s ruling to the contrary should be reversed,” the office demanded.
The state’s constitutional language on bail is generally intended to ensure that a defendant who is presumed innocent has the right to seek a pre-trial release while his or her trial is pending, according to the attorney general’s office.
That language, she argued, does not explicitly imply bail. The Attorney General’s office also argued that history was on its side, stating that “bail money was all but unknown at the time the 1818 Constitution was drafted.”
At the time, the attorney general said, the defendants’ continued appearance was secured by promises from their friends and family that they would give assurances that they would appear at the trial.
Raoul’s office also cited dictionary definitions of bail from before the United States was a country that never associated bail with cash deposit.
“Of course, defendants who have been released or released on bail prior to trial have in the past been released with stipulations, both financial and non-monetary, intended to ensure their appearance before trial. ‘ said the Attorney General.
The filing also argues that significant case law gives lawmakers the power to set guidelines and said that Cunnington’s reasoning for finding the law violated the separation of powers was “grossly flawed”.
The Supreme Court, the filing states, “never held that the General Assembly unreasonably violated that power by imposing conditions under which it may be exercised.”
Opponents of the law have until February 17 to submit a response. Oral hearings are expected in March, but a date has not yet been set.
In addition to bail reform, the SAFE-T Act also addresses long-standing public safety issues, some of which have already come into force. The regulations envisage equipping all state police officers with body-worn cameras and expanding services for crime victims.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire – Copyright Chicago Sun-Times 2023.)