Illinois became the first state in the country to eliminate cash bail as a condition of pre-trial release on September 18. So far, the results have been mixed and there has been a strain on local resources in Illinois’ 102 counties.
McHenry County’s top prosecutor used the words ‘absurd’ and ‘incoherent’ to describe what he witnessed in court on the day the no cash bail law took effect. State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally offered two examples of people he would like to have seen in jail, pending trial, but instead were freed because judges had no choice. The cases involved a man who had an extensive criminal record, including prison time, and was charged for allegedly trying to break the door of his ex-girlfriend’s house. The other case involved a man arrested for a second DUI who should have been detained since he posed a threat to the public.
Kenneally added that 22 of the worst criminals in McHenry County have all petitioned to be set free until their trials. This includes people charged with murder, drug-induced homicide, and sex-related charges. “The party of unchecked power has succeeded in turning the criminal justice system into a farce,” Kenneally is quoted as saying. He added that he hopes judges keep these people in jail until their trials.
Criminal justice systems across the state have been adjusting to the new law. Under the Pretrial Fairness Act portion of the SAFE-T Act, judges must decide within 48 hours if someone charged with a crime should be held in jail. Non-violent offenders are given a notice to appear at their court date and released. To prepare for the new law, law enforcement agencies had to familiarize themselves with the changes.
After months of preparations, stakeholders in the criminal justice arena are still working out a number of challenges. Attorneys and judges are now holding hearings for people who were already in custody before the new law went into effect and want to be released. This process will take weeks as defense attorneys determine if they want their clients to be treated under the old system or new one. Illinois courtrooms have been very busy conducting hearings since the elimination of cash bail.
Resources are being stretched thin all across the state with the elimination of cash bail. An assistant state’s attorney in McLean County spent at least 1,000 hours studying and teaching a prosecutor’s team about the Pretrial Fairness Act.
In DuPage County, a man charged with breaking into a high-end boutique shop in Hinsdale was released from custody pending trial. The man was charged with two felonies in the case, and he is currently on parole for armed robbery and aggravated battery in Cook County. Conditions of his pre-trial release include that he be fitted with a GPS electronic monitoring device and remain at least 1,000 feet away from the boutique shop. State’s Attorney Robert Berlin stated that a person currently on parole and now accused of a forcible penalty being back out on the streets pending his trial ‘illustrates a deficiency in the new law.’
More than half of Illinois’ 102 counties do not have a full-time public defender. Large counties like Cook County are set up to run court all day and every day, but that’s simply not the case everywhere in Illinois. Court reporters are in short supply, and state’s attorney’s offices in some counties are one-person operations. There are judges who travel from courthouse to courthouse in some rural counties. Additional staff will need to be hired in many areas and budgets will be strained.