Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Illinois Supreme Court affirms law eliminating cash bail

The Illinois Supreme Court upheld a measure eliminating cash bail in the state, finding that Democratic legislators acted properly when they passed the law, which will transform the Illinois criminal justice system and limit judges’ ability to hold defendants in jail before trial, reported The New York Times.

The Illinois law, which went beyond similar bail overhauls in other states, was part of a national push to reduce jail populations and end a system in which wealth can determine whether a defendant returns home to await trial. But it infuriated many county prosecutors and sheriffs, who asserted that the law was passed improperly and made the state less safe.

In its ruling on Tuesday, the Supreme Court said cash bail would end in Illinois on Sept. 18.

Cash bail has been widely used for decades. Rather than sit in jail waiting for a trial that may not begin for months, a defendant is allowed to deposit money with the court and remain free. But if they fail to show up when they are supposed to, the defendant risks losing that money.

Civil rights groups and politicians, many of them Democrats, have long called for limiting or abolishing that system, and for allowing more defendants to be released without having to put up money. Critics say the cash bail system is unfair to poor defendants, who risk losing jobs or homes if they cannot afford to post bail.

“Someone’s experience with the criminal justice system should not vary based on their income level,” Attorney General Kwame Raoul, a Democrat, said in a statement praising the 5-to-2 decision.

But law enforcement groups have spoken in ominous terms about what the change would mean for public safety. In a court brief, lawyers for the union representing rank-and-file Chicago police officers said the law “sets forth a recipe for increases in crime, recidivism, dysfunction in the criminal prosecution system, and danger to police officers and the communities they serve.”

New Jersey and New Mexico have vastly reduced the use of cash bail but have not ended it completely. New York has eliminated it for certain types of offenses but not others. Those moves also led to fierce opposition, and some second-guessing.

The Illinois law passed with broad Democratic support and was signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, part of a shift to the political left since Democrats reclaimed full control of state government in the 2018 election.

Republicans voiced their opposition to the cash bail law during last year’s campaigns, but Mr. Pritzker won re-election by a wide margin and Democrats kept legislative majorities.

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