SAFE-T Act’s cashless bail provision begins in McHenry County, across Illinois, despite controversy

Of first 5 McHenry County defendants, 3 were released under the new system, 2 automatically

The McHenry County Government Center on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023.  
As part of the SAFE-T Act approved by state lawmakers in 2021, Monday is the first day that Illinois started eliminating cash bail for those charged with crimes.

Illinois’ new era in criminal justice – resulting from a controversial state law that eliminated cash bail – began in McHenry County on Monday with a detention hearing at which one defendant was ordered held in jail and another was released with conditions.

The detention hearing – which has replaced traditional bond court as part of a sweeping set of criminal justice reforms known as the SAFE-T Act – determines whether a defendant can be held in custody while awaiting trial, since those charged no longer can be detained simply because they can’t afford to post a cash bond.

That effectively means that defendants can either be held without bail – if they’re considered a danger to the community or to an individual or are a flight risk – or can be released and be placed on restrictions.

At 8 a.m. Monday, five people arrested over the weekend in McHenry County made initial appearances before Judge Michael Coppedge to determine whether their charges were detainable under the new law enacted by state lawmakers in 2021. Among those, one was automatically sent to jail because of the nature of the charge. Of the two who were automatically released in accordance with the reforms, one person was charged with retail theft and the other was accused of driving on a suspended license, courthouse administrator Dan Wallis said.

Two others were held over for the afternoon detention hearing, during which prosecutors argued why the defendants should be held in custody and denied pretrial release.

Thomas Purdy, 38, of McHenry, who had been out on pretrial bond for a Class A misdemeanor of violating an order of protection in June, was arrested Saturday and charged with criminal damage to property, a Class 4 felony, according to prosecutors and court records.

The charge is not automatically detainable, as murder would be, prompting a hearing in which prosecutors presented further details of his case and argued that Purdy should be detained.

The criminal damage to property occurred at the residence of the alleged victim named in the order of protection, according to court documents.

Assistant State’s Attorney Shelby Page argued that Purdy’s bond should be revoked on the earlier misdemeanor and that he should remain in custody on the new charge. The motion to revoke the previous bond fell under the old law and will be addressed at a future court date.

Coppedge said he based his decision to release Purdy on a pretrial risk assessment, a pretrial bond assessment and his lack of criminal history.

Purdy was allowed to be released from jail on the new charge with conditions, including that he have no contact with the alleged victim, surrender all firearms and dangerous weapons, and notify the clerk of any change of address. He also must comply with terms and conditions of the order of protection, according to a petition to set conditions of pretrial release on file in the courthouse.

Purdy’s attorney, Dan Nold, said that based on his experience, a Class 4 felony could have led to Purdy being held in the county jail on a bond between $20,000 and $50,000 under the old bond system. He would have had to post the required 10% to be released, which would range from $2,000 to $5,000.

Dustin Wise, 37, of Marengo, also appeared for a detention hearing and was ordered to be held in the county jail.

Wise already been had held in the county jail on cash bond since Aug. 14 on charges of violating an order of protection that stemmed from a domestic battery conviction, according to Page and court documents.

Page said each case, as well as other cases dating to 2019, involved the same alleged victim and charges of domestic battery and harassment.

The current charge stems from Wise, while in jail Sept. 11, allegedly having “a fellow inmate call [the alleged victim] from a jail phone. ... Dustin then obtained the phone from said inmate and waited for [the alleged victim] to answer,” according to Page and the criminal complaint.

“We believe he is a real and present threat to the victim ... and would continue to pose a threat to [the alleged victim],” Page said.

Wise also is a flight risk and has had a pattern of not showing up to court in his past cases, Page said.

Coppedge noted the state’s argument and said “the court found probable cause” to detain Wise.

Such hearings will be held daily under the new law.

After the hearing, Coppedge welcomed inquiries from prosecutors and defense attorneys in the courtroom who appeared to still have questions about the procedures under the new law.

Sheriffs and prosecutors around the state opposed the measure, and mounted legal challenges ultimately delayed – but didn’t stop – the law from taking effect.

When the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the law in July, paving the way for enforcement to begin Monday, McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally called the measure an “entirely irresponsible piece of legislation” and “merely a sad reflection of the state of ideological capture in our three branches of government.”

Illinois is the first state to do away with cash bail completely. Under the law, certain crimes are listed as detainable, such as first-degree murder. For defenses not listed, prosecutors must argue why a defendant should be held pending trial.

Some observers, including McHenry County Assistant Public Defender Kim Messer, have said the law could result in “more people in the jail, not fewer.”

“If the court determines the state has met its burden, they will be held without bail,” Messer said. “I think that will happen more frequently than people anticipate.”