SYCAMORE – Five days before the SAFE-T Act’s cashless bail provision is implemented statewide, local officials shared their thoughts on the impending criminal justice changes this week and how it will impact arrests and court proceedings.
DeKalb County court officials and area law enforcement held a panel Wednesday with area business professionals at a Sycamore Chamber of Commerce event meant to educate the community in preparation for Monday’s SAFE-T Act implementation.
The portion of the SAFE-T Act that ends pretrial cash bail goes into effect on Sept. 18, two months after the Illinois Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality. The ruling overturned a Kankakee County judge’s opinion in December that the law violated the constitution’s provision that “all persons shall be bailable by sufficient sureties.”
Illinois 23rd Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Bradley Waller and DeKalb County State’s Attorney Rick Amato spoke iWednesday n the DeKalb County Community Foundation’s Freight Room in Sycamore, joined by Sycamore Police Chief Jim Winters and DeKalb County Sheriff Andy Sullivan.
All four officials said the changes created by the legislation are the largest they’ve seen in their career, but they don’t expect things to go haywire Monday.
“We are still going to be arresting people,” Winters said. “I think there was this misperception that we were just going to be releasing people, and no one is going to be out, or no one is going to be arrested or detained on the street by officers, but that’s really not true.”
Proponents of the controversial SAFE-T Act – which played a large role in the November 2022 elections and became divisive along partisan lines – said the legislation would help prevent wealth from being a factor in whether someone charged with a violent crime must stay in jail while awaiting trial. They also maintain it will help reduce the number of people held in jail awaiting a potential verdict by limiting the criteria a judge can use to order incarceration.
Under the new law, criminal offenses will be classified as detainable or nondetainable, dictating whether or not a law enforcement official can jail a defendant before a trial. Treason, first or second degree murder and home invasion will be among the detainable charges, as well as various types of criminal sexual assault, robbery, burglary, arson and kidnapping. Any felony which involves the threat of – or infliction of – great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement will be a detainable offense, as well as aggravated battery.
The cashless bail provisions outline a more detailed set of criteria court officials will need to follow to determine whether someone arrested and charged with a crime is eligible for release under the SAFE-T Act. Judges in Illinois still will maintain the ability to determine eligibility for bail based on a set criteria, according to the SAFE-T Act. That criteria, however, has been updated to prohibit cash bail, and include more steps for prosecutors and judges to use to determine qualification for release, including if a person is a flight risk if released, or what type of violent crime the charges entail.
“I’m not releasing everybody on Monday. Unless I get a valid court order saying such, nobody is going to be released. People are allowed to ask for a hearing on their current offenses, to be moved from the old system to the new system, but I’m not releasing anybody on Monday without a valid court order.”— Andy Sullivan, DeKalb County sheriff
Sullivan said the deputies with the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office will still make arrests for class A misdemeanors and felonies, but nondetainable arrests will end with the accused processed by the police and issued a court date instead of set to the DeKalb County Jail to await bond hearings.
“For example, like a battery case: if someone were to punch me in the face, or anyone in the face, that’s not a detainable offense. We can arrest you, or you’re going to be given a citation or a complaint – you’ll be given a court date,” Sullivan said. “So you’ll be arrested, taken to the police department or the Sheriff’s office – we go to the Sheriff’s office but DeKalb police, Sycamore police, they’ll go to their own agency – they’ll process that person and then they’ll be released with a court date. In the past they would have also brought you to jail.”
A year ago, Amato joined dozens of other Illinois state’s attorneys in October 2022 who filed a lawsuit against Gov. JB Pritkzer and Attorney General Kwame Raoul challenging the SAFE-T Act. The lawsuit argued the SAFE-T Act was unconstitutional, and it would be “chaotic” for residents if it takes effect.
Now, Amato said the law will implemented consistently across DeKalb County, though things may look different elsewhere. The 23rd Judicial Circuit Court covers DeKalb and Kendall counties.
“We’re working very closely [with law enforcement] so that the experience within DeKalb County is the same, and it will be the same,” Amato said. “Outside of the county, Kane, Kendall, they’re doing their thing, and that’s fine. I go from challenging it to now having to be the best tactician for this law. It’s crazy, but we have a duty to keep our community safe, and we’ll keep our community safe.”
Waller took a similar tone to Amato, stressing his focus on creating and keeping the community safe while also operating his court room to the letter of the law.
“Whether we agree with this, or whether we don’t agree with it, it’s now the law and we all took an oath to up hold the law and enforce the law to the best extent possible,” Waller said. “And that’s really what we’re engaged with now, is making the determination, both as the prosecutor and as judges, how this is going to play out. We all live in this community, I want this community to be safe, too. I’ve been in this community since 1981, I have roots in this community, and I want to see both the law effectuated but also safety.”
DeKalb County Administrator Brian Gregory, state Rep. Jeff Keicher (R-Sycamore), Sycamore City Manager Michael Hall and DeKalb County Board member Kathy Lampkins (a Republican from District 2) attended the event alongside area business leaders.
Sycamore Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rose Treml said she was spurred to host the community panel discussion after the cashless bail provision of the SAFE-T Act was upheld, and she began hearing from business owners who were concerned by the policy change.
“We just need people to understand, not be alarmed,” Treml said. “This is what’s going to happen, and our police, our Sheriff’s department, our judicial system, our State’s Attorney, they have it under control, and I wanted to make sure people understood that.”
Treml said she has the utmost confidence DeKalb County law enforcement and judicial officials will keep the community safe, and she thinks Chamber members are less anxious because of what was said during the panel.
Sullivan said he would not be releasing individuals from jail without court orders, continuing to rebuff concerns large numbers of convicted criminals would be released in the county on Monday.
“I’m not releasing everybody on Monday,” Sullivan said. “Unless I get a valid court order saying such, nobody is going to be released. People are allowed to ask for a hearing on their current offenses, to be moved from the old system to the new system, but I’m not releasing anybody on Monday without a valid court order.”
Officials say the new criminal justice process means stricter requirements, and quicker deadlines for prosecutors and court workers, but Waller said he believes justice will continue to be served.
“It’s going to be a situation where those people that should be detained, I’m confident that they will be detained after the appropriate hearing,” Waller said. “It’s just going to require additional steps.”