2 months of no-cash bail: How Illinois courtroom handles new law

2 months of no-cash bail in Illinois: How a local courtroom is handling the new law
Published: Nov. 18, 2023 at 10:59 PM CST
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ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (KWQC) - The SAFE-T Act was upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court back in July and went into effect on Sep. 18. The sweeping criminal justice reform package includes the Pretrial Fairness Act which eliminates cash bail.

Before the change, defendants would have to post bail to be released from jail. Now, prosecutors have the burden to prove to judges whether or not they should be incarcerated during the court process.

Rock Island’s chief public defender, Hany Khoury, has played a key role in the county’s transition to the new law.

“I believe we are in an efficient place at this time,” said Khoury, “but we’re getting better every day still, because it’s new.”

Despite a backlog of defendants seeking release when the law went into effect two months ago, county officials say they are starting to find their stride as more cases are heard and appeals are made.

“The lawyers, myself included, are getting more proficient in the law and understanding and applying the law on both sides.” said Khoury, “And the judges, as well, are becoming more familiar with the law and that’s also helping the process.”

Khoury clarifies the benefits of having a defendant released if a judge determines they are not a flight risk and not a threat to the community.

“The practical effect is, if our client is not in jail, they’re free to continue to try to work, to try to continue to care for their children, or whatever obligations they have, live their life, enjoy their liberty, while they are presumed innocent.” said Khoury.

Overall, Khoury believes the benefits of the new law outweigh the challenges of increased demand on county resources.

“Implementation of the Pretrial Fairness Act in Rock Island County, in particular, went better than expected.” said Khoury.

Although lawyers, prosecutors and judges may be adapting well to the new law, more time and data is needed to determine whether critic’s fears of the law come to fruition, such as criminals being likely to re-offend or an uptick in crime.

Illinois is the first state in the nation to adopt a no-cash bail policy, so it remains an experiment in criminal justice reform.