Judge rules portions of SAFE-T Act are unconstitutional

A Kankakee County judge ruled late Wednesday night that aspects of the SAFE-T Act that was set to go into effect Jan. 1 are unconstitutional.

The ruling by Judge Thomas W. Cunnington specifically concerns aspects of the Pre-Trial Fairness Act covering bail reform and pre-trial release provisions.

These reforms have been the subject of much controversy for some time, with 64 counties – including Monroe and Randolph – joining in the consolidated lawsuit.

Within these counties, the cash bail and pre-trial release reforms will not go into effect Jan. 1 while other aspects of the SAFE-T Act already in effect such as reforms to police officer training and body camera requirements will remain.

In Cunnington’s 36-page decision, he wrote that the cash bail provisions served to unconstitutionally amend the state constitution, specifically Article I Section 9 which states that, “All persons shall be bailable by sufficient sureties.”

He also cited a section of the Illinois Constitution stating that victims have a right to have their safety and the safety of their family considered as a judge chooses to deny or fix the amount of bail in a case.

Cunnington wrote that courts would be unable to observe this section of the constitution with the elimination of bail.

He further wrote that, as bail has been observed to be an administrative issue by the Illinois Supreme Court, the legislature has no authority to interfere with how courts determine bail per the Separation of Powers Clause.

Cunnington disagreed with several counts presented by the plaintiffs. Among these was the charge that the passing of the bill violated the three readings requirement.

Cunnington wrote that the Illinois Supreme Court has held that so long as the Speaker of the House and the Senate President certify that the procedural requirements for passage are met, it is presumed that all procedural requirements have been met.

Following the ruling, Gov. JB Pritzker’s office issued a press release reiterating on his hopes for the SAFE-T Act.

“Today’s ruling is a setback for the principles we fought to protect through the passage of the SAFE-T Act,” Pritzker said. “The General Assembly and advocates worked to replace an antiquated criminal justice system with a system rooted in equity and fairness. We cannot and should not defend a system that fails to keep people safe by allowing those who are a threat to their community the ability to simply buy their way out of jail. I thank the Attorney General for his work on this case and look forward to the Illinois Supreme Court taking up the appeal as soon as possible.”

It’s not currently clear exactly when such an appeal might be heard.

Locally, Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing has been a vocal opponent of numerous provisions to the act.

Rohlfing spoke negatively about the act following the Kankakee County judge’s ruling, echoing his previously expressed concerns about the act’s possible impacts on public safety.

“For now the terrible law does not go in to effect in Monroe County on Jan. 1, 2023,” Rohlfing said. “I will continue to do my best and fight for our residents’ rights. My goal has always been to provide the highest level of public safety and this new law would have made that nearly impossible.”

Monroe County State’s Attorney Lucas Liefer similarly expressed his satisfaction with the ruling.

“I am pleased with the ruling holding the pretrial release provisions of the Pre-Trial Fairness Act unconstitutional,” Liefer said. “This was a bipartisan effort from a majority of the state’s attorneys of the State of Illinois and the Constitution prevailed. I want to thank all of those involved, and specifically the litigation team, for their diligent and competent work on this matter.”

The reform remains scheduled to take effect in the more than 30 counties that did not sue – including neighboring St. Clair County.

For our previous articles on the SAFE-T Act, click here.

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Andrew Unverferth

HTC web