What is SAFE-T Act? Law abolishing cash bail for criminals blocked by Illinois Supreme Court

What is SAFE-T Act? Law abolishing cash bail for criminals blocked by Illinois Supreme Court
The SAFE-T act seeks to ban cash bail for criminal defendants (Getty Images)

On Sunday, January 1, just hours before the new law called the Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity-Today Act was to go into effect, the Illinois Supreme Court issued an emergency decision blocking the statewide ban on cash bail for criminal defendants. This law was passed in 2021 by Illinois Governor JB Pritzker.

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The law SAFE -T allows for the release of persons remanded in custody for heinous crimes such as second-degree murder, violent crimes, and arson without having to post bail. This law caught the attention of the media and worried many people, as analogies were drawn on the Internet to the movie 'The Purge,' which is about allowing any crime for one day a year. Marie Franklin, a former Illinois State Trooper and proponent of the SAFE -T Act, told KSDK that the law will impact approximately 250,000 people who are in custody each year and unable to post bail.

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A majority of the state's law enforcement officials have opposed the law, and 100 of Illinois' 102 district attorneys have done so. Former Riverside, Illinois, police chief Thomas Weitzel told The Sun that the law puts lives at risk, even as proponents of the proposal point out that judges still must decide who remains in custody and who is released in each case.

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"We told them this wasn't a good idea. I don't want Illinois to be a social experiment," said Weitzel, who resigned in May 2021 after nearly four decades in law enforcement. "And you don't experiment with criminal justice. Lives are risk."

In contrast, proponents of the law claim that it will remedy the injustice of poor people-many of whom are completely innocent-being held in jail for months before their trial because they cannot afford bail, while the rich are allowed to go without any problems.

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The bill's proponent, Pritzker, emphasized the unfairness of bail for a poor suspect accused of a minor crime versus a wealthy suspect who can afford bail no matter how serious the offense. He said, "We do not want someone in jail because they were arrested for a low-level crime like shoplifting to be sitting in jail for months or maybe even years."

Pritzker added, "At the same time, someone who is a wealthy drug dealer, perhaps accused of murder and arrested, can show up with a suitcase full of money and get out of jail." Advocates also contend that this new law will significantly help minority groups that are disproportionately represented in prisons.

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This law has undoubtedly attracted a lot of attention, and the Supreme Court finally decided to block its provisions after the Illinois Attorney General's office appealed a local judge's ruling on Friday, December 30, that the law was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court claimed that its order was necessary to "maintain consistent pretrial procedures throughout Illinois" before issuing a decision regarding the law. An "expedited process" was promised in order to make a decision.

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Bail reform has already been applied to varying degrees in some US cities, but this law is the most stringent because it applies nationwide and covers serious crimes such as murder and kidnapping. In New Jersey, former Governor Chris Christie amended the state constitution to ban cash bail in most cases, and New York passed a comprehensive bail reform bill in 2019 that bans cash bail for all but the most serious crimes.

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