Illinois Supreme Court upholds SAFE-T Act, local officials have mixed response

The Illinois Supreme Court building is pictured in Springfield. (Capitol News Illinois file photo)

DIXON – Local officials had mixed reactions to the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday upholding the new state law, known as the SAFE-T Act, which will clear the way for an end to cash bail starting later this year.

The law initially was set to go into effect Jan. 1 of this year, but its implementation was halted after a Kankakee County judge in December found that it violated the constitution’s provision that “all persons shall be bailable by sufficient sureties.” Now, the law abolishing cash bail is set to take effect in 60 days.

“We are very disappointed in the conclusion from the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, we respect the Supreme Court’s decision as the final authority in this matter. We will uphold our oaths of office to support and defend the Constitution,” Lee County State’s Attorney Charles Boonstra, a Republican, said in a statement. “Make no mistake, this decision will impact our County in more than just a financial way. After this ruling, people who commit serious crimes are much more likely to be allowed out of custody for the pendency of their case. Nevertheless, it is the priority of this office to keep the community safe, and we will continue to do so through the rule of law.”

While other states and municipalities have enacted changes to cash bail, notably New Jersey, Illinois is he first to abolish it. Instead, judges can decide that a defendant is a flight risk or poses too much of a threat to one person or the community to allow release. Or, that defendant can be released with conditions such as avoiding contact with a particular person or not visiting a certain place, according to the Bail Project. The new law is set to go into effect Sept. 18.

“The Whiteside County State’s Attorney’s Office will follow the law as established by the General Assembly and Governor, as it has been interpreted by the Supreme Court,” Whiteside County State’s Attorney Terry Costello, a Democrat, said. “Within those confines, my office will do its best to protect the community and crime victims.”

Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle, a Republican, said he was concerned about what the decision could mean for public safety.

”From my standpoint, it’s public safety and holding people who commit crimes accountable so they don’t re-offend. This legislation doesn’t do that,” VanVickle said. “This legislation doesn’t make the public safer; it does the opposite. I think what most people don’t realize is we don’t house people in our jail for low-level crimes already. The legislature brought up the single mom who was stealing diapers for her kids; those are the types of people they’re trying to keep out of jail. Those people haven’t been in jail for years.”

State Rep. Bradley Fritts, R-Dixon, said he was “deeply disturbed” by the decision and that he thought it was the wrong direction for the state.

“These soft-on-crime policies continue to prioritize the wants of criminals over the needs of our communities. We will now be the first in the nation to utilize no-cash bail, all while our state’s crime rate remains one of the highest in the country,” Fritts said. “Further, I stand behind the law enforcement officers who have continually spoken out against the SAFE-T Act. After their effort to defund the police failed, woke progressives are now attempting to handcuff law enforcement by making their jobs as challenging as possible. This no-cash bail policy ensures that police will continue to arrest the same offenders over and over again, therefore putting their lives in further danger and wasting more taxpayer dollars.”

Illinois Fraternal Order of Police State Lodge President Chris Southwood issued a statement calling Tuesday’s ruling “a slap in the face to those who enforce our laws and the people those laws are supposed to protect.”

“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court confirms Illinois’ status as the state of lawlessness and disorder,” Southwood said.

Contrary to the critics, proponents of the SAFE-T Act say the provisions of the law does not mean the jail doors will open up and dangerous criminals will be let out of the county jail.

It also does not mean that everyone who commits a crime moving forward automatically will be released before adjudication.

There are many crimes that are automatically detainable written into the the SAFE-T Act such as first-degree murder.

In cases where crimes are not automatically detainable, such as aggravated domestic violence, prosecutors must argue before a judge and prove that the person is a threat to an individual or the community. They also must show the individual is not likely to follow the rules of pretrial release.

If released, the defendant will be monitored and ordered to follow restrictions such as curfews, spot checks at home, and submit to drug and alcohol screenings. If they violate the rules of their pretrial release they could be remanded to the county jail until adjudication in their case, attorneys have said.

Shaw Local News Network reporters Amanda Marrazzo and Alexa Zoellner and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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