SAFE-T Act on hold

Just a few hours before they were set to go into effect, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that parts of the SAFE-T Act would be put on hold through the entirety of Illinois.

Provisions of the bill pertaining to pre-trial services and the elimination of cash bail have been placed on hold while other aspects of the SAFE-T Act that were already in effect before Jan. 1 – such as reforms to police officer training and body camera requirements – remain active.

The stay was issued following the ruling of a Kankakee County circuit judge who determined the SAFE-T Act pre-trial release provisions were unconstitutional in a lawsuit involving 64 counties – including Monroe and Randolph.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, the changes to pre-trial services were set to be halted only in those counties involved in the lawsuit.

However, before an appeal on the issue could be heard, the Illinois Supreme Court decided to halt the challenged provisions throughout the entire state in order to “maintain consistent pretrial procedures throughout Illinois.”

Locally, Monroe County Sheriff Neil Rohlfing – who has long spoken in opposition to the SAFE-T Act – said that he expected such an outcome following the lawsuit’s original ruling.

“I kind of figured it was going to go this direction, so we’re just going to have to wait and see,” Rohlfing said.

Monroe County State’s Attorney Lucas Liefer – who has similarly expressed displeasure with the SAFE-T Act previously – noted that he was happy with the court’s decision for the sake of uniformity.

“I’m pleased that the Supreme Court has entered that order for the sake of continuity throughout the state of Illinois,” Liefer said.

Yet another opponent of the act, Senator Terri Bryant’s office shared a press release that quoted her as saying she is “hopeful that the Court will agree that the pretrial release provisions contained in the Act violates the Illinois Constitution.”

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul also issued a statement following the ruling expressing his office’s intentions to defend the SAFE-T Act before the Supreme Court.

“It is important to note that the order issued today by the court is not a decision on the merits of the constitutionality of the SAFE-T Act, and I appreciate the court’s interest in expediting the appeal,” Raoul said. “We look forward to mounting a robust defense of the constitutionality of the law and ensuring that it goes into effect across the state.”

The ruling that prompted the Supreme Court decision was made by Circuit Judge Thomas W. Cunnington,  who was specifically concerned about those aspects of the act covering bail reform and pre-trial release provisions.

In Cunnington’s 36-page decision, he writes 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 state 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 other counts presented by the plaintiffs, though. Among these was the charge that the passing of the bill violated the “three readings” requirement.

Cunnington wrote that the 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, Governor 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 the appeal might be heard.

Rohlfing spoke negatively about the act following the 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 affect 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.”

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.”

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Andrew Unverferth

HTC web