The Supreme Court of Illinois Saturday put a hold on the controversial Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today (SAFE-T) Act, finding that the pretrial release provisions under the act violated the Illinois Constitution.
The SAFE-T Act is a criminal justice reform law impacting many aspects of the criminal justice system such as policing, pretrial, sentencing and correction. Notable provisions include a body camera mandate for police officers and increased transparency in custodial death cases.
65 counties sued to stop the law from going into effect on January 1. Kankakee County Judge Thomas Cunnington of the 21st Judicial Circuit heard a consolidated lawsuit on the matter. Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe argued that the legislation was unconstitutional since it violated the separation of powers clause of the Illinois Constitution and amendments to section 9, Article I of the Constitution were not put to a vote on the ballot. The judge ruled in favor of the argument, which means that bail reform and pre-trial release provisions cannot go into effect.
Governor of Illinois J.B. Pritzker said that Cunnington’s ruling was a “setback for the principles we fought to protect through the passage of the SAFE-T Act.”
The Supreme Court of Illinois upheld Cunnington’s ruling in an emergency supervisory order, stating:
The administration of the justice system is an inherent power of the courts upon which the legislature may not infringe and the setting of bail falls within that administrative power, the appropriateness of bail rests with the authority of the court and may not be determined by legislative fiat…..the pretrial release provisions do violate this separation of powers principle underlying our system of governance by depriving the courts of their inherent authority to administer and control their courtrooms and to set bail.
Illinois House Leader Jim Durkin called the ruling a “victory for the often neglected victims of crime and the men and women of law enforcement who wear the badge every day.”
The SAFE-T Act is controversial because it abolishes cash bail. Non-violent defendants no longer must post bail before trial. Exceptions to this include defendants deemed a risk to public safety or a risk of escaping. Republican lawmakers and law enforcement stakeholders argued that the law will lead to a rise in crime. Democratic lawmakers and advocates for criminal justice reform argue that abolishing cash bail is necessary to prevent discrimination against the poor.