Kankakee County, IL – An Illinois circuit court judge ruled the state’s new law eliminating cash bail is unconstitutional just days before it is set to go into effect.
Kankakee County Chief Judge Thomas Cunnington handed down the ruling on Dec. 28 in response to more than 60 lawsuits that were combined and filed by prosecutors and sheriffs who argued the SAFE-T (Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today) Act improperly amended the state constitution and violates the separation of powers, WGN reported.
Cunnington noted in his decision that “the appropriateness of bail rests with the authority of the court and may not be determined by legislative fiat,” according to the news outlet.
In addition to violating the separation of powers clause, the judge determined the SAFE-T Act is unconstitutional because it violates the Victim Rights Act and denied voters the right to vote on an amendment to the state constitution, KSDK reported.
“Had the legislature wanted to change the provisions in the Constitution regarding eliminating monetary bail … they should have submitted the question on the ballot to the electorate at a general election,” he wrote.
Cunnington further noted that the legislation “stripped away” the courts’ power to protect the safety of victims and their families, KSDK reported.
The ruling applies in a limited number of judicial circuits involved in the 64 lawsuits, according to WGN.
Other aspects of the legislation, including training and bodycams, were upheld, according to KSDK.
The SAFE-T Act will go into effect on Jan. 1, WGN reported.
In addition to eliminating cash bail, the law requires defendants to go before a judge who will ultimately determine whether they should be released onto the streets while their cases are pending.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul vowed to appeal the ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court, KSDK reported.
“…regardless of today’s circuit court decision, all parts of the SAFE-T Act, including the pretrial release portions addressed in the court’s decision, will go into effect Jan 1,” Raoul said in a statement.
“For instance, the right of individuals awaiting criminal trials – people who have not been convicted of a crime and are presumed innocent – to seek release from jail without having to pay cash bail will go into effect in a few short days, despite the court’s ruling against those provisions,” the state attorney general declared. “Illinois residents in all counties should be aware that the circuit court’s decision has no effect on their ability to exercise their rights that are protected by the SAFE-T Act and the Illinois Constitution.”
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker denounced Cunnington’s ruling and said it is “a setback for the principles we fought to protect through the passage of the SAFE-T Act,” KSDK reported.
“The General Assembly and advocates worked to replace an antiquated criminal justice system with a system rooted in equity and fairness,” Pritzker said in a statement. “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.”
The governor vowed to appeal the decision so that dangerous suspects to be released without paying.
“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,” the governor added.