SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Illinois will be the first state to entirely eliminate cash bail, and after over two years of preparation, some counties are ready to make the switch.
“Leading up to that we’ve been, you know, practicing,” said Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz. “So as we’re charging cases now, we’re filling out the forms and deciding ‘Is this case where we would seek detention? How would we handle this situation?’ That sort of thing.”
The system replacing cash bail makes the early stage of the court room process more complex, and no two counties are going to do it exactly the same.
“There are 102 counties in the State of Illinois, and the SAFE-T Act implementation will be implemented 102 different ways,” said Macoupin County State’s Attorney Jordan Garrison. “There’s not going to be uniformity.”
The entire arraignment process will likely take longer than before, but courthouses are trying to keep it from getting too overwhelming.
“Although the hearings individually will take longer than they used to, I don’t think it’s going to be so burdensome that we can’t get through it,” said Macon County State’s Attorney Scott Rueter.
After someone is arrested, they will be arraigned like normal, but then the prosecutor will make their pitch for if a person should be detained or not.
“The new system kind of moves from generally three options for a person who’s just coming into the system,” said Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell said. “The two options: a judge makes a decision where the person will be released or not released.”
There are more requirements for prosecutors and defense attorneys early in the process. Judges in some counties, like Champaign and Macon, are allowing attorneys to show evidence through what are called proffers.
All the proof won’t be there, but it will give judges a better understanding of the prosecutor’s case before making their decision.
“We don’t actually have to call a witness,” Rueter said. “We can represent to the court what the evidence would be, as part and that’s allowed under the law.”
The prosecutor can’t call for detention in every case. The Pretrial Fairness Act lays out which defenses are in the detention net.
“I’m generally comfortable with the detention net that we have right now,” Rietz said. “But there’s always going to be those outliers, there’s always going to be those individuals who we believe are dangerous or need to be detained or who have might pose a risk to themselves.”
Crimes like murder, sexual assault, robbery, arson and most crimes involving the use or sale of a firearm are part of a long list of forcible felonies people can be detained for. Crimes like minor drug possession charges are not detainable on their own, but a person could still be detained if they are a willful flight risk or found to be a danger to society.
The prosecutor has the burden to prove somebody is a flight risk, not the defense. At a broader scale, the prosecutor has the burden of proof through the entire process. The court will operate under the assumption that a person will be released pretrial unless the prosecution convinces the judge otherwise.
“We will make sure that communities are safe no matter what this law does to the justice system,” Garrison said. “But it also helps us ensure that the defendants’ rights are upheld as well. So I think going forward, this will be a good program for the state of Illinois.”