Abolition of Cash Bail in Democrats’ SAFE-T Act Declared Unconstitutional

The decision by a circuit court, grounded in the Illinois Constitution of 1970, led directly to a move by the Illinois Supreme Court to stay implementation of the controversial and far-reaching change to Illinois’ Criminal Code. While the initial circuit court decision only would have applied the 65 counties where law enforcement had filed suit against the law, the Supreme Court’s action is valid statewide. The Supreme Court’s stay covers all jurisdictions statewide, headed by Chicago-based Cook County, where the circuit court decision would not have reached. The stay order was issued on Saturday, December 31, just before the law had been scheduled to go into effect.     

Based on this stay, Illinois courts statewide will continue, for now, to have the right to demand cash bail from defendants as a condition of pretrial release. Law enforcement professionals have repeatedly testified that cash bail is an essential public safety tool. The text of the Constitution of 1970 recognized this fact and included language (section 9 of Article I:  Illinois Constitution – Article I (ilga.gov)) that assumed that bail would be one of the tools in the toolbox available to the court when a pretrial process is underway. In its decision on the SAFE-T Act, the circuit court found that by enacting this Act with the language signed by Gov. Pritzker, the legislature and the governor had unconstitutionally combined to interfere with the right of the Illinois Courts, a separate branch of the political system, to use the tools in its toolbox.