Hours before parts of the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today (SAFE-T) Act were set to go into effect on Jan. 1 in parts of the state — including Cook County, which includes Chicago — the Illinois Supreme Court ruled against them.

The ruling affects the cash-bail and pretrial parts of the act for the entire state.

The decision stated, “In order to maintain consistent pretrial procedures throughout Illinois, the effective date of the Pretrial Fairness Act is stayed during the pendency of the appeal … and until further order of this Court.”

The court added that it will “coordinate an expedited process for this appeal” of the decision. However, it is not known exactly when the appeal will take place, meaning the cash-bail and pretrial changes are on hold. 

On Dec. 28, Kankakee County Circuit Court Judge Thomas W. Cunnington ruled that the bail reform and pre-trial release provisions of the SAFE-T Act were unconstitutional. That decision only affected the 64 counties involved in the suit, meaning that bail reform and pretrial release provisions were slated to go ahead in Illinois’ other 38 counties on Jan. 1. 

Cook County, which includes Chicago, was not one of the counties in that consolidated case.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed the Safe-T Act into law in January 2021. Some of the more controversial parts of the act — such as getting rid of cash bail — weren’t scheduled to go into effect until January 2023. In December 2022, Pritzker signed changes to the SAFE-T Act. The bill was amended to expand the list of detainable offenses; it also specified what prosecutors have to show a judge in order to get a defendant held before a trial.

The Illinois Supreme Court currently has a Democratic majority. Earlier this year, during the 2022 midterm election cycle, two seats were up for election, generating fears that the court would turn majority Republican, which has not happened in 50 years. However, those seats were won by Democrats.

The act stated that once cash bail was scheduled to end  in Cook County on Jan. 1, a defendant could only be detained in jail pretrial if they’re charged with specific types of felonies, and if prosecutors prove to a judge that a defendant is a flight risk or “poses a specific, real, and present threat to any person or the community.”

Proponents of the SAFE-T Act say it will keep people who are presumed innocent from having to fight their cases from behind bars and lower jail populations across the state. Research shows that spending even a few days in jail makes it more likely for a defendant to end up homeless, unemployed or rearrested — even if they’re not convicted, according to a September 2022 article by Injustice Watch

Regarding the state supreme court’s Dec. 31 ruling, the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice said in a press release, “While we are disappointed that the Pretrial Fairness Act will not be taking effect as scheduled on January 1, 2023, we are thankful that the Supreme Court has stepped in to provide guidance to courts and communities across the state. We remain confident that the Court will swiftly correct the poorly reasoned decision made by Judge Cunnington.”

The group added, “The frivolous lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Pretrial Fairness Act is just the latest of many attempts by conservatives to prevent progress and preserve wealth-based jailing in Illinois. With every passing day that money bond remains in place, Illinois will continue to punish people for being poor. It is essential that the Supreme Court moves quickly to ensure the law’s full implementation and prevent any more Illinoisans from being forced to pay a ransom to free their loved ones from jail while they await trial.”

The Cook County public defender’s office said in a separate statement, “We are confident that the Supreme Court will swiftly reverse the lower-court finding and confirm the constitutionality of the Pretrial Fairness Act. In the meantime, we are grateful that the court is providing uniform guidance to courts across the state.”

The office also said, “Money bond is a deplorable practice, and it is high time that Illinois abolish a system that punishes people — most of them Black and Brown — for being poor. We decry the frivolous lawsuit that was brought against the Pretrial Fairness Act almost two years after it was signed into law.”

is the Digital News Editor for The TRiiBE.