Elation, dismay from suburban leaders over state Supreme Court's landmark bail ruling

The Illinois Supreme Court's landmark decision Tuesday upholding the constitutionality of cashless bail sparked elation from some suburban leaders and dismay among others.

Hailing the ruling as a historic moment in the pursuit of equal justice, proponents of the Pre-Trial Fairness Act said it will make communities safer.

"Instead of domestic abusers, murderers and sex offenders using their cash to obtain release, judges can finally hold dangerous individuals prior to trial," Lake County State's Attorney Eric Rinehart said in a prepared statement.

Rinehart and Cook County counterpart Kim Foxx were the only state's attorneys of the 102 in Illinois who vocally supported the elimination of money bond. Many others were plaintiffs in the lawsuit seeking to block it.

Under the law, nonviolent offenders no longer will be detained because they lack bail money, Rinehart said, adding that the money-based system disproportionally jails Black and brown defendants.

"We can finally begin to live up to the ideal that access to money should not lead to different justice systems for different defendants." he added, noting that a cashless system has worked for decades in federal and juvenile courts.

"Everyone deserves a fair shot at justice, regardless of their ZIP code, paycheck or the color of their skin," Foxx concurred. "Ending cash bail is in line with our values and is a critical step toward economic and racial justice in Cook County and Illinois."

McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally, who was among the prosecutors who sued to block the change, said his office is disheartened by the decision. He believes it will make the job of prosecutors, judges and police more difficult.

"That said, we have no choice other than to accept the decision and move on," he said, adding that his office will do everything in its power to ensure that dangerous offenders remain behind bars while awaiting trial.

"As the flaws of this haphazardly enacted and poorly conceived law become immediately apparent in the form of compromised safety of communities across the state, we will also seek to work with our legislators on common-sense reforms," Kenneally said.

The provision abolishing cash bail is part of the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today (SAFE-T) Act, an omnibus criminal justice package that also includes body camera requirements for police, use-of-force reforms and other measures. Passed by the General Assembly in 2021, the bail change was set to take effect Jan. 1. The Illinois Supreme Court stayed its implementation in December in response to constitutional challenges.

Eliminating cash bail had strong support in the Northwest suburbs, said state Sen. Ann Gillespie. During a news conference Tuesday, the Arlington Heights Democrat referred to conservative-funded campaign mailers opposing cashless bail last year, saying her constituents recognized them as misinformation.

"Propaganda disguised as newspapers designed to stoke fear in the suburbs largely failed," she said.

The elimination of cash bail, which goes into effect Sept. 18, does not mean the end of pretrial detention, Rinehart noted.

"We will still jail defendants prior to trial, and the defendants we do hold will be the dangerous weapon offenders, drug traffickers, child molesters, murderers and domestic abusers who will no longer be able to use their own cash (or their accomplice's cash) as an escape hatch from justice," he said.

But Illinois Fraternal Order of Police President Chris Southwood called Tuesday's ruling a confirmation of "Illinois' status as the state of lawlessness and disorder," and "a slap in the face to those who enforce our laws and the people those laws are supposed to protect."

"The court ignored the pleas of nearly every prosecutor in the state of Illinois, Democrat and Republican, that the elimination of cash bail will put dangerous criminals back on the street, instead of keeping them in jail or forcing them to post cash bail as they await trial," said Southwood, who opined that released offenders would commit crimes within hours

State Rep. Brad Stephens said the ruling puts pressure on overburdened and demoralized police.

"The so-called SAFE-T Act rewrote the book on everything from allowing anonymous complaints against police officers to abolishing cash bail and letting people accused of violent felonies back on the streets," said Stephens, a Republican who also serves as mayor of Rosemont.

DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin was among several prosecutors who worked with legislators in the fall on bipartisan efforts to fix what he called "glaring deficiencies" in the initial version of Pre-Trial Fairness Act. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an amended version in early December.

"I am very proud of the improvements advanced by this group," Berlin said in a prepared statement Tuesday.

Berlin promised to continue advocating for a system similar to that of New Jersey, which he said allows judges more authority to detain a person accused of any crime when prosecutors prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant will not appear in court or poses a danger to any person or the community at large.

Rinehart and Kim Foxx said Tuesday they are prepared to implement the changes on Sept. 18 and respond to expected petitions for release from those currently in custody.

A spokeswoman from the Cook County public defender's office, whose attorneys represent many incarcerated defendants, said she expects hundreds of defendants to seek release.

• Daily Herald staff writer Doug T. Graham contributed to this report.

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Patrick Kenneally
Kim Foxx
Robert Berlin
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