Moving beyond bail: How suburban court officials have prepared for dramatic change
Monday marks a transformative moment for the criminal justice system in Illinois, as the longtime practice in which freedom for the accused came with a price tag will be relegated to the history books.
As of Monday, cash bail will be no more in courtrooms across the state. Instead, judges will decide whether the accused should be jailed until trial or set free depending on the severity of the crime, the defendant's likelihood to flee and whether that person poses a threat to an individual or the community -- with the law favoring release in most circumstances.
For advocates of cashless bail, it's a victory years in the making, delivered by the Illinois General Assembly with its passage of the SAFE-T Act criminal reform bill in 2021 and confirmed by the Illinois Supreme Court in July. They say the cash bail system unfairly punished the poor and communities of color and filled jails with low-level offenders who simply could not afford to buy their way out while awaiting trial.
But critics warn the new system favors criminals over communities and will set dangerous people free to commit further offenses.
Ahead of the change, we spoke with suburban representatives of three prongs of the criminal justice system -- a judge, a prosecutor and a defense attorney -- to learn about how they've prepared and what they expect.
Third District Presiding Judge Jill Cerone Marisie anticipates it will be business as usual on Monday at the Rolling Meadows courthouse.
Preparation for cashless bail began 18 months ago. For the last six months, courthouse personnel have participated in weekly and biweekly meetings as well as in-house training. That training culminated in a procedural run-through last week with about 100 judges, prosecutors, assistant public defenders, pretrial services division representatives and officers from 20 police departments.
In addition, courthouse personnel received guides summarizing every section of the statute.
Marisie said the judge presiding over pretrial hearings typically hears seven to 10 bond cases daily, and procedures will remain the same.
Police officers bring defendants to the courthouse between 7 and 9 a.m. and submit complaints to assistant state's attorneys for review. Prosecutors determine whether to make a motion to detain individuals charged with detainable offenses or to ask that defendants be released on certain conditions.
A representative from the pretrial services division then assesses the defendant and -- if the accused does not have a private attorney -- an assistant public defender is notified. After that, the defendant goes before the judge.
Of the criminal cases pending in the Third District, 177 defendants are in custody at Cook County jail, Marisie said.
Fewer than 35 are held on a monetary bond for what will be considered non-detainable offenses as of Monday. In many of those cases, those individuals are in custody for other reasons -- picked up on a warrant or arrested on a new charge, she said.
"We consider a number of statutory factors," Marisie said. "We're weighing the rights of the accused against the safety of the public and the victims."
The law requires prosecutors to file a detention petition before a judge can order an accused person into custody. In certain cases, if a prosecutor fails to file a petition, a judge may ask what conditions the assistant state's attorney requests the court impose to protect communities and ensure the defendant doesn't flee.
"The way the statute is worded, if the state does not file a petition to detain, judges don't have the authority to override them," she said.
Marisie doesn't anticipate a mass exodus of custodial defendants on Monday.
"The floodgates are not going to open, and jails are not going to release everyone who's being held on non-detainable offenses," she said.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys have the option of petitioning the court to reconsider pretrial detention or other conditions placed on defendants, she said. Until they do, the status of defendants whose cases are pending will remain the same.
"Until (prosecutors or defense attorneys) motion those cases up," she said, "the defendants who are out on bond are going to stay on bond, and defendants who are in custody are going to stay in custody."
Lake County State's Attorney Eric Rinehart said his office is well-prepared to keep those already accused of violent crimes and other detainable offenses in jail and to detain those newly accused of certain offenses behind bars once cashless bail takes effect.
For several months, the assistant state's attorneys handling cases against people whose charges meet the criteria for detainment under the new rules have been filing petitions to keep them behind bars, Rinehart said.
"It has been complete misinformation that violent offenders are going to be out under any version of the SAFE-T act," Rinehart said.
Rinehart emphasized whether someone currently incarcerated is released from jail after Monday will be determined by a judge.
"It will all still have to lead to a hearing. Nothing is going to happen at midnight of the 18th," Rinehart said.
Rinehart's office has hosted workshops for his prosecutors and for local law enforcement leaders about the new system.
Lake County leaders approved funding so Rinehart could hire an additional attorney for the new detention hearings that will replace bond court.
Rinehart, a Highwood Democrat, has long supported the bail reforms in the SAFE-T Act.
"The determining factor is no longer money," he said. "It is a safety analysis by judges and prosecutors."
DuPage County Chief Public Defender Jeffrey York and his staff have been preparing for more than a year for the new cashless bail system.
That doesn't mean he isn't a little nervous about its debut Monday.
"It's definitely a change of mindset for everybody," York said.
All defendants at bond call -- now "first appearance court" -- are represented by a public defender unless they have hired a private attorney.
In DuPage, the way bond call typically worked was an assistant public defender assigned to a courtroom might meet the defendant about five minutes beforehand, and the attorney might know only the title of the charges, York said. They would learn details of the allegations when an assistant state's attorney told them to the judge.
Unlike the prosecutors, the public defenders would not know the defendant's criminal history, if any, unless the defendant told them.
Come Monday, three full-time public defenders and a half-time one will be assigned to the first appearance court, housed at the jail, where all detained defendants will appear first.
The public defenders now will be supplied with whatever the prosecutors have, including any reports, notes or videos from police, to review with the defendant. "More information should be a good thing," York said, and the hearings will be more meaningful.
The length of court calls will depend in part on whether a prosecutor seeks to detain the defendant or have conditions put on the release, according to York.
The prosecutor must present clear and convincing evidence that detention is necessary because the defendant poses a real and present threat to the safety of a specific person or the community and that no condition can negate the threat.
People also can be detained if the judge determines no conditions, such as home monitoring, can negate the threat that the defendant will flee prosecution. Witnesses also may testify at the pretrial release hearings.
York said he doesn't know if more people will end up being detained, but he suspects the mix of people detained will change.
Before the SAFE-T Act was enacted, York had a staff of about 30 attorneys. He now has 40 and wants to add six more next year. The county added a third floor to the judicial office building to give the public defenders more space, as well as free up space for court services operations.
York said the biggest driver of increased staffing is the time it takes to review police body- and squad-car camera footage. The SAFE-T Act requires police departments to equip officers with body cameras. Three attorneys will be assigned, full time, to review that footage on weekdays, and two on weekends.
Whatever bumps there may be on Monday, though, York is confident his staff can handle them. "As public defenders," he said, "we're used to winging it."