The SAFE-T Act was set to go into effect on January 1st of the new year. However, the no-cash bail provision of the bill was deemed unconstitutional by an Illinois judge. The Illinois Supreme Court put a halt on the legislation, which will likely force legislators to revisit some of the provisions of the bill.
While those on the right have derided the legislation as being soft on crime and making the streets less safe, the left believes that the criminal justice system unfairly favors those with money. Ending cash bail is one way to make the system fairer. However, it is not clear that either side is correct, and in all of the confusion, necessary reforms are falling by the wayside.
Had the Supreme Court not stepped in to block the legislation, cash bail would have survived in the counties that sued to block the measure. With some counties participating and others not, the court blocked the legislation until it could review it more carefully and determine if any of the provisions of the law violated the state constitution.
How Would Cashless Bail Work?
The court has a right to protect its interests in a criminal case against a defendant. They can either get an injunction to prevent the defendant from leaving the state, or they can keep them in jail while they are awaiting trial. In most cases, the defendant is given bond. If the defendant cannot afford to pay the bond, they stay in jail. At this point, the prosecutor has leverage to force a guilty plea because the guy just wants to go home. So, the defendant submits a guilty plea for a minor infraction so that he does not have to spend the next month or longer in prison. That is obviously and patently unfair. So, how do you make it fairer?
Essentially, judges would have discretion based on prosecutorial arguments to hold an individual for trial based on the severity of the offense. They can likely opt for house arrest or ankle bracelets as well. For cases such as murder, rape, aggravated assault, armed robbery, kidnapping, and other violent crimes, the judges would elect to hold the individual in jail. Typically, a rich defendant would be able to pay their way out of jail. A poor defendant would have to wait in jail for their case to be prosecuted.
The biggest problem is that any effort to improve the criminal justice system is met with backlash from law enforcement which takes it as a personal slight against them. Those who attempt to foster change in the system are characterized as “anti-law enforcement” and demonized. From law enforcement’s perspective, criminal justice reform means the public is taking the criminals’ side. So any form of communication or middle ground becomes impossible, and the courts have to step in to issue a ruling.
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