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Illinois high court halts law that would eliminate cash bail

The Illinois Supreme Court halted a statewide end to cash bail for criminal defendants in an eleventh-hour ruling just hours before the new law was expected to begin Sunday.

The high court enacted a stay on the provisions of the legislation in response to an appeal the Illinois Attorney General’s Office filed Friday with the court of a local judge’s ruling — which found that the act was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court said its order was necessary to “maintain consistent pretrial procedures throughout Illinois” before it makes a decision on the law. It promised an “expedited process” to come to a decision.

The Democrat-controlled Illinois General Assembly hoped to end cash bail beginning Jan. 1 through the passage of the SAFE-T Act — arguing that cash bail creates an inequitable system in which the poor sit in jail while the rich go free as they await trial.

However, state Republicans feared the termination of cash bail — which has historically been used to ensure defendants show up to their court dates — would allow potentially dangerous criminals to walk free.

Illinois counties were expected to stop ordering defendants to be held on bail at their first court appearances on Sunday, but many counties said they would ignore the new law — resulting in a hodge-podge court system.

Prosecutors and sheriffs from 64 counties across the state had filed a lawsuit to challenge the reforms.

Democrats, attempting to appease safety concerns, added numerous offenses to a list of criminals that qualify an accused person to remain jailed while awaiting trial.

Still, a local judge deemed the legislation unconstitutional.

Kankakee County Circuit Judge Thomas Cunnington ruled Wednesday that the General Assembly violated the constitution’s separation of powers clause. He said the end or continuation of cash bail should be the judiciary branch’s decision.

Governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, said he was confident that the legislation was constitutional and would be ruled so by the Supreme Court.

He described the new policies as “long overdue reforms that will make Illinois families safer and prevent violent offenders from being able to buy their freedom just because they are wealthy enough” in a statement.

With Post wires.

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