Illinois attorney general says arguments against no cash bail law flawed

(The Center Square) – Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has filed a counter brief challenging a judge’s decision that ruled the pretrial release portion of the SAFE-T Act is unconstitutional. 

In the brief, Raoul argues that abolishing cash bail does not violate the state’s constitution and arguments to the contrary are “flawed.”

“Plaintiffs contend, and the circuit court agreed, that the General Assembly violated two separate provisions of the Illinois Constitution in doing so: (a) the Constitution’s bail clause, which makes criminal defendants ‘bailable’ subject to certain exceptions, and (b) its crime victims’ rights clause, which grants crime victims certain procedural rights. Those arguments are flawed on multiple levels, most fundamentally because neither constitutional provision requires the State to maintain a system of monetary bail. The circuit court’s contrary decision should be reversed,” Raoul’s office wrote

Judge Thomas Cunnington issued his ruling after dozens of state’s attorneys sued to stop the cashless bail provision from taking effect Jan. 1. In his ruling, Cunnington determined the pretrial provisions of the SAFE-T Act violate the separation of powers principle. 

“The court finds that had the Legislature wanted to change the provisions in the Constitution regarding eliminating monetary bail as a surety, they should have submitted the question on the ballot to the electorate at a general election,” Cunnington wrote. 

Initially it appeared only the counties that took part in the lawsuit would keep cash bail in place, but the Illinois Supreme Court put the provision on hold statewide until the case could be resolved. 

In addition to the bail clause, state’s attorney’s also argued the pretrial portion of the SAFE-T Act violates a crime victims’ rights clause.

“It really puts victims at a disadvantage,” said Illinois House Minority Leader Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, to The Center Square. “To force victims to be compelled by the defendant to testify at a bail hearing is absolutely inappropriate.”

The Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice and the ACLU of Illinois filed an amicus brief supporting the Pretrial Fairness Act. The brief supports Raoul’s appeal of Cunnington’s ruling. 

“The time to end money bond in Illinois has arrived,” stated Ben Ruddell, director of Criminal Justice Policy at the ACLU of Illinois. “We are confident that the Court will see that this law is constitutional, and that the policy will benefit thousands across Illinois. No one should be forced to languish in jail pretrial simply because they do not have resources.”

The state’s attorneys who filed the suit have until Feb. 17 to respond to Raoul’s brief. The Illinois Supreme Court will hear the case in March.

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