Ready or not, cash bail system ends in Illinois. Here’s 7 questions answered

Illinois police officers, prosecutors, public defenders and judges will have what a local judge said could be called a “revolutionary” new way to deal with people charged with crimes beginning Monday.

That’s when the “cash bail” process for defendants will end in Illinois. Instead, when a prosecutor wants someone who is charged with a crime to be held in jail until their trial, a judge will hold a “detention hearing.”

The new criminal justice system is considered the nation’s first to entirely eliminate cash bail for defendants. It was ruled constitutional in July by the state Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision split by party lines with five judges elected as Democrats supporting the law and two Republican judges opposing it.

This partisan division mirrored the dispute between Democrats who sponsored the no-cash bail legislation signed by Democratic Gov. J. B. Pritzker and Republican lawmakers opposed to it.

St. Clair County Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson said “you could use the term revolutionary” in describing the change in the criminal justice system starting Monday.

Gleeson urged people to let the process work itself out.

“We’re not letting everybody in the world out of our jails,” he said. “We are taking into consideration the safety and well-being of the community at large.”

Here’s a Q&A about the system, which is known as the Pretrial Fairness Act component of the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act, or SAFE-T Act:

What did supporters say in statements after the Supreme Court ruling?

Democratic Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton:

“All along, our goal has been to right the wrongs of policies that have disproportionately harmed Black, Brown and low-income Illinoisans while, at the same time, bolstering public safety by building a system that centers on accountability and fairness. The amount of money in one’s bank account should never be the determining factor of whether they should be released or detained while awaiting trial. To do so does nothing but criminalize poverty and this disproportionately impacts marginalized communities.”

Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice:

“The Pretrial Fairness Act will improve community safety by keeping millions of dollars in our state’s most marginalized communities every year. Studies have shown that even short periods of pretrial jailing make it more likely that someone will be arrested in the future. Giving people the opportunity to stay in their communities while awaiting trial will enable them to keep their jobs, housing and custody of their children, making us all safer. In 2020, Illinois collected more than $120 million in bond money. Ending wealth-based jailing will ensure that families are no longer forced to forego paying rent or to pool funds together to free their loved ones from county jails and will keep desperately needed resources in our communities.”

What did opponents say?

State Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville:

“The politics that has infected our highest court will now tie the hands of local judges and law enforcement who work hard every day to keep Illinoisans safe. This is dangerous to the brave men and women who serve in law enforcement, it is devastating to communities across our great state, and it is frightening to the families who just want safe neighborhoods. All of this simply because a few of our top elected officials kowtow to activists and are completely disconnected from the realities their constituents face every day.”

Illinois Fraternal Order of Police State Lodge President Chris Southwood:

“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court confirms Illinois’ status as the state of lawlessness and disorder. The court ignored the pleas of nearly every prosecutor in the state of Illinois, Democrat and Republican, that the elimination of cash bail will put dangerous criminals back on the street, instead of keeping them in jail or forcing them to post cash bail as they await trial. Many of those offenders will commit crimes again within hours of their release. And who will have to arrest those offenders again and again? The police officers whose jobs have been made immeasurably more difficult by all of the new anti-law enforcement measures that are in place.”

What are the new standards for keeping someone in jail before their trial?

The state Supreme Court ruling goes into effect on Monday, Sept. 18, which is 60 days after the July 18 decision.

If prosecutors want someone to be held in jail before trial, they will be required to file a petition for a detention hearing before a judge. The detention hearing must be held within 48 hours of a person’s first appearance for charges such as first-degree murder.

The defendant “has the right to be represented by counsel, and if he or she is indigent, to have counsel appointed for him or her. The defendant shall have the opportunity to testify, to present witnesses on his or her own behalf, and to cross-examine any witnesses that are called by the State,” according to a statement by the Illinois Supreme Court Pretrial Implementation Task Force.

Prosecutors will need to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant “poses a real and present threat to the safety of a person or the community.” If the prosecutors allege the person is a flight risk, they have to prove “no condition or combination of conditions can mitigate the defendant’s high likelihood of willful flight,” from prosecution, the task force statement said.

If a judge decides to detain a defendant, he or she must issue a written order “summarizing why less restrictive conditions would not avoid a real and present threat to the safety of any person or persons or the community, based on the specific articulable facts of the case, or prevent the defendant’s willful flight from prosecution.”

Either the defendant or a prosecutor can appeal a judge’s ruling.

What will police officers be required to do when investigating a crime?

If the offense is a felony such as first-degree murder, police officers will arrest the person and bring the suspect to the police station or local jail for booking, according to the Pretrial Implementation Task Force.

For misdemeanors such as disorderly conduct and trespassing, police officers will issue a citation and schedule the person into court.

However, officers can arrest the person facing a misdemeanor offense if the person doesn’t have proper identification, poses “an obvious threat to the community or any person” and if the criminal activity persists after the issuance of a citation, according to the task force.

“They’re going to have probably a little more discretion in terms of how they deal with people on the street … for the low-level stuff,” Gleeson said.

Belleville Police Chief Matt Eiskant said the department has received plenty of information about the new system.

“We’re going to comply with this law,” he said. “We’re going to see how it plays out.

“We’re prepared. We’re ready,” he said.

Does this new system apply to people being held in a county jail before Monday?

In St. Clair County, if a prosecutor wants a person to remain in jail, a detention hearing must be scheduled within the next two months to determine if the person can continue to be held in jail, according to Gleeson.

Gleeson said the St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s Office has already filed detention hearing requests for 250 to 260 people in custody in the St. Clair County Jail.

These detention hearings will be conducted by judges who previously were assigned to the corresponding felony case, and the hearings will be worked into the judges’ dockets, Gleeson said.

St. Clair County State’s Attorney James Gomric through a spokesman declined to comment on the implementation of the no-cash bail system.

The BND has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the petitions that have been filed regarding people held in the St. Clair County Jail as of Friday.

In an example of one of the cases where a petition for a pretrial detention hearing was already filed, a request was filed Tuesday regarding the first-degree murder charge filed earlier this year against 25-year-old Lavar A. Gilbert Jr.

Gilbert is being held in the St. Clair County Jail in lieu of $1.05 million bail.

Court records do not indicate a date for Gilbert’s detention hearing.

Gilbert was charged in connection with the shooting death of a Fairview Heights man in Cahokia Heights in April.

If a detention hearing has not been requested for a person in jail, then that person can be released, Gleeson said.

The plan in St. Clair County stands in contrast to the plan in Madison County.

In Madison County, people held in the county jail before Monday can request a review of their case and then the Madison County State’s Attorney would follow-up, according the state’s attorney’s office.

Does the court system have enough people to handle the workload change?

Gleeson said he anticipates the St. Clair County Public Defender’s Office will need three or four more public defenders.

“They already are overwhelmed,” he said. “The Public Defender’s Office is undermanned at this point.”

The office is managed by Chief Public Defender Cathy MacElroy but Gleeson said he has supervisory responsibilities over the department.

MacElroy could not be reached for comment.

Gleeson said prosecutors will have a “significant addition” to their workload at least until they get acclimated to it.

Judges handling felony cases also will have an increased workload as they handle the influx of detention hearing requests.

Courtroom 407 under the direction of Associate Judge Sara L. Rice will be the courtroom dedicated to hear detention cases in St. Clair County.

What’s the outlook for the new system?

“It remains to be seen,” Gleeson said.

“I think we can argue there are inequities in the cash bond system and this is a response to that,” he said. “I’m hopeful that as we roll this out and make these assessments that we can actually effectuate the intent of this.”

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