Illinois AG pushes back on bail reform challenge from prosecutors in final SAFE-T Act appeal brief before arguments

The Illinois Supreme Court should reject a “grab-bag of constitutional theories” put forward by prosecutors across the state who are challenging a measure that would eliminate cash bail, the attorney general’s office argued in a final appeal brief filed Monday.

The justices will now hear oral arguments in the case on March 14 in Springfield to decide whether the pretrial provisions of the sweeping SAFE-T Act violate the state’s constitution.

The state is appealing a Kankakee County judge’s ruling that found measures that remove money as a factor in pretrial release decisions to be unconstitutional. The December decision caused confusion across the state less than two weeks before cash bail was set to be abolished.

The high court stepped in hours before the measures would take effect, halting implementation until the high court rules on the matter to “maintain consistent pretrial procedures throughout Illinois.”

In its final arguments, the Illinois attorney general’s office pushed back on assertions from more than 60 state’s attorneys, most from downstate, who contended that lawmakers should have put the matter to voters as a proposed amendment to the state constitution.

The brief said the high court has “no persuasive reason” to side with the prosecutors, and argued that their position would “effectively bar the General Assembly from ever reforming pretrial procedures in the State.”

In their brief, the state’s attorneys said the law violates the constitution’s separation of powers clause by taking away power from judges and infringes on the rights of crime victims, among other arguments.

But the state maintains that history and case precedent give the General Assembly the right to play a role in shaping pretrial criminal procedure, and that the interests of crime victims are taken into account.

“The clause by its plain language guarantees rights only to crime victims; it cannot reasonably be read to require a system of monetary bail,” the brief said, “and it is easily squared with the pretrial release provisions, which at multiple stages require courts to consider crime victims in making release decisions.”

If affirmed, the provisions would drastically change the way pretrial justice is handled across the state.

In addition to eliminating money as a factor in release decisions, the measure also outlines a new pretrial system in which defendants will appear for two hearings: an initial hearing, also known as a conditions hearing, and a detention hearing for those who prosecutors seek to detain, designed to provide a more comprehensive look at whether someone should be released or jailed pretrial.