Criminal justice reform is a complicated process involving small victories and occasional backsteps. As much as some wish for sweeping reform that sticks, the reality is more nuanced.
Recently, Illinois passed the SAFE-T Act. One of the laws included in part of the act eliminated the use of cash bail as of January 1, 2023. This law restricts judges from requiring a monetary amount to afford bail—and instead holding those who qualify is a fleeing risk.
WBEZ Chigaco reports that the Illinois Supreme Court listened to arguments against the law on March 14 that claim the change was unconstitutional.
The constitutional right to bail
Illinois statutes in the state constitution claim people “shall be bailable by sufficient sureties” — including cash bail. Those opposing the cash bail law claim legislators need to change the constitution before changing what a judge can require.
A separation of powers problem
Some opponents believe this law blurs the boundary of the typical distinctions between the judicial, executive and legislative branches. In this case, a legislative act informs judges what they can and cannot do.
The Supreme Court has not yet set a date to release a ruling. Currently, bail remains a constitutional right and uses a pretrial release system as part of the SAFE-T Act.
Under the pretrial system, people facing allegations prove before a judge that they are eligible for release until the courts resolve their cases. This often includes showing evidence that they are not flight risks or safety threats. More information and resources are available to those needing to know how best to do that.