Kendall County Now

Kendall County State’s Attorney appears before state’s high court in SAFE-T Act challenge

Kendall County State's Attorney Eric Weis speaks to the Kendall County Board on Sept. 20, 2022.

Kendall County State’s Attorney Eric Weis appeared before the Illinois Supreme Court as part of the legal team challenging the constitutionality of the SAFE-T Act and its controversial cashless bail component.

Weis was one of six state’s attorneys who sat before the justices in Springfield for about an hour on March 14.

While Weis was not one of the attorneys to deliver oral arguments in the case, he has been a leading player in the efforts challenging the new policing law from the start.

“It was an honor to be in front of the Supreme Court,” Weis told the Kendall County Board on March 20. “It’s very humbling.”

A decision from the high court is expected to be handed down in a month or two.

Last year, Weis and more than half of the state’s attorneys from around Illinois filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Safety, Accountability, Fairness, Equality-Today Act.

The lawsuits were consolidated into a single case argued before a Kankakee County judge, who ruled on Dec. 28 that the pre-trial fairness portion of the law is both unconstitutional and violated the separation of powers principle that prevents one branch of government from interfering with the functions of another.

Weis said the Illinois General Assembly overstepped the authority of the judiciary.

Much of the act, including requirements for police training and use of body-worn cameras remain in place and took effect on Jan. 1.

However, the cashless bail portion of the law, which Weis said would handcuff judges when determining whether someone charged with a crime may be held in jail, is now in legal limbo until the high court renders its decision.

During the Supreme Court hearing, justices asked attorneys a variety of questions, but there is no way to know how they are leaning, Weis said.

“They could be playing devil’s advocate,” Weis said. “You really can’t read anything into it.”

Concerns about the law resulted in amendments that were approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. JB Pritzker during the fall veto session last year.

The amendments added to the list of offenses for which a person may be detained, including aggravated battery and aggravated drunken driving involving a death.

Prosecutors would need only show that an offender represents a threat to the community at-large, rather than just a single identifiable individual, in order to be held.

In addition, the amended law also allows for arrest warrants to be issued for those who fail to appear in court, changing a provision of the original act that had drawn considerable criticism.

Weis and 57 other county state’s attorneys from Illinois filed lawsuits challenging the act before the trailer bill and its amendments were introduced and signed by the governor. More counties joined the legal action later.

The sweeping SAFE-T Act is more than 750 pages and includes a variety of policing and judicial reforms. Under the Illinois Constitution, only appropriations bills are exempt from a requirement that a piece of legislation must be confined to a single subject.

The complaint also alleges that the cashless bail system violates protections for crime victims included in the state constitution.

Mark Foster

Mark Foster is a freelance reporter for Shaw Local News Network, covering local government in Kane County