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Cash Bail Is Sticking Around For Now As Attorney General Takes SAFE-T Act Fight To State Supreme Court

Gov. JB Pritzker expects the top state court to make a ruling "in the next few months."

A member of Asian Americans Advancing Justice at a protest against cash bail in September 2020.
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CHICAGO — A law set to abolish cash bail in Illinois is on hold as the state’s highest court weighs its constitutionality.

In the meantime, cash bail is still in effect state-wide — despite a long-held plan by top state legislatures to have it struck down Jan. 1.

State Attorney General Kwame Raoul filed an appeal to the state’s Supreme Court on Wednesday after a downstate county judge deemed the pretrial release provision of the the Illinois SAFE-T Act unconstitutional.

Kankakee County Chief Judge Thomas W. Cunnington’s Dec. 28 decision sided with various sheriffs and prosecutors across the state who argued the law violated separation of powers by weighing in on the judicatory process.

The ruling led to confusion about the immediate future of cash bail mere days before it was set to end. But in the final hours of 2022, the state Supreme Court filed an “emergency motion” to keep cash bail across the state “to maintain consistent pretrial procedures” while the law was debated in top court.

Gov. JB Pritzker told reporters Wednesday he expects the state Supreme Court to make a ruling “in the next few months.”

For now, cash bail remains in limbo. Advocates are still hopeful it will ultimately be struck down state-wide, Pritzker said.

“There is common and comfortable belief that this is constitutional,” Pritzker said at his Wednesday news conference. “I’m disappointed there is a delay in the implementation. …. Someone who’s wealthier shouldn’t just be able to buy their way out of jail when they commit a violent crime.”

Despite widespread misinformation on social media, the SAFE-T Act does not mean jails would empty out or judges would lose their authority to detain someone who poses a danger. It removes cash bail as a standard in pre-trial procedures.

Advocates for the Safe-T Act say eliminating cash bail would be more equitable for people — particularly those who are low-income or are from disproportionally policed communities — who have not been convicted of crimes but remain in prison because they can’t afford bail.

Illinois would be the first state to completely eliminate cash bail. New Jersey mostly scrapped cash bail in 2017, acknowledging its court system had long discriminated against the poor.

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