McHenry County latest to sue over Illinois’ SAFE-T Act, elimination of cash bail

County Attorney’s office joins Will County, Kankakee County in filing lawsuit

McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally makes an argument during court proceedings Friday, March 11, 2022, during the second day of Michael M. Penkava and Colin B. Scott’s trial before Judge Mark Gerhardt at the McHenry County Michael J. Sullivan Judicial Center in Woodstock. Penkava and Scott are both elders in a Crystal Lake Jehovah's Witnesses congregation and are charged with misdemeanor failure to report the sexual abuse of a child.

McHenry County has joined with other Illinois prosecutors to sue the governor and Illinois attorney general over the elimination of cash bail passed as part of the SAFE-T Act, McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally announced Monday.

The lawsuit claims that the “764-page, ideologically decadent, and typo-ridden bill” that became the SAFE-T Act “goes too far constitutionally,” violating the state’s constitution in a number of ways.

The bill failed to confine itself to a single subject, “unconstitutionally trenches upon the separate powers of the judiciary” in the arena of bail and pretrial release, and violates Crime Victim’s Rights, the complaint alleges.

The lawsuit also offers several examples of what it describes as the “unworkable incoherence, contradictory provisions, and careless draftsmanship” of the law.

Kenneally’s lawsuit follows others filed by the state’s attorneys in Will, Kankakee and Grundy counties. The law, which Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law on Feb. 22, 2021, and went into effect July 1, 2021, has become a focus of Illinois Republicans ahead of the November election.

Kenneally argued in a news release Monday that defendants charged with second-degree murder, fentanyl trafficking and a host of other violent crimes could no longer be detained ahead of their trials and if they failed to show up for court, a warrant could not be issued for their arrest.

For pretrial detention to be ordered, prosecutors must prove “by clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant committed the crime, poses a specific threat to a person or persons and that no other pretrial conditions can mitigate the defendant’s risk to that person or persons, Capitol News Illinois reported.

Many aspects of the statute were called “vague” and unclear by retired Judge Robbin Stuckert, the chairman of a nonpartisan task force tasked by the state Supreme Court with working to incorporate the SAFE-T into current justice practices ahead of Jan 1, according to the CNI report.

The law’s sponsors in the General Assembly have indicated clarifying legislation could be considered later this fall.

Attempts to reach Pritzker’s communications team were unsuccessful Monday evening, but following the Will County lawsuit, Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in a statement that Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow’s lawsuit was a “weak attempt to protect the status quo that lets murders and abusers pay their way out of jail.”

“The SAFE-T Act not only prevents that from happening, but also provides law enforcement officers the tools they need to fight crime, like body cameras, additional training and access to mental health care,” Abudayyeh said.

Kenneally argued in his lawsuit that the SAFE-T Act was “entirely unnecessary and will needlessly encumber the freedom of defendants with burdensome bail conditions.”

As of mid-July, 3,714 people were facing misdemeanor or felony charges in McHenry County. Of those 146, or 3%, were being held pre-trial, the complaint states. Of those, 115 were charged with offenses that would allow the courts to keep detaining them under the new system.

The remaining 31 included 10 people facing Class X felonies, one of the highest levels of felonies in Illinois, six for drug-induced homicide and four for the manufacture or delivery of controlled substances, the complaint shows.

“Only a tiny percentage of low-class felony offenders are held because they cannot afford bail,” Kenneally’s office said in the release, adding, “it is impossible for a single mother who steals diapers to be held pretrial for six months under current bail laws.”

Capital News Illinois contributed to this report.