Illinois has become the first state to abolish cash bail as the Pre-Trial Fairness Act, part of the SAFE-T Act, went into effect September 18. This comes after extensive delays and legal challenges, as many are worried this will put more criminals back on the streets.
Before today, anyone arrested, regardless of offense, would be taken to a judge to determine the cash bail amount needed for the defendant to go free until trial. With the SAFE-T Act, the possibility of pretrial detention is limited to defendants charged with felonies who are determined to pose a real and present threat to the safety of the community. This includes those accused of first- and second-degree murder, predatory criminal sexual assault, burglary, residential burglary, aggravated arson, kidnapping, aggravated battery resulting in great bodily harm, hate crimes, attempts of crimes that are detainable, animal torture, and DUI causing great bodily harm.
A prosecutor will now be required to file a petition for a defendant’s pre-trial detention showing clear and convincing evidence that the defendant committed the offense and meets the standard of threat required to deny pre-trial release. Defendants currently being held prior to trial will now receive hearings to determine whether their detention will continue.
While Illinois is the first state to eradicate cash bail, smaller jurisdictions, including Cook County, have experimented with the idea. In 2017 the chief judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County issued General Order 18.8A, which resulted in a 15 percent drop in the average daily jailed population.
New York State’s Bail Reform of 2019 eliminated most cash bail, but then rollbacks were made in 2020. New Jersey has also passed a law very similar to the Pre-Trial Fairness Act, and advocates say that neither crime or failure to appear in court have gone up in the state.