File Photo – Lake County Courthouse | Photo: Google Street View

Lake County court officials say that they will be following through with the SAFE-T Act and end of cash bail on January 1 in wake of a judge’s ruling finding cashless bail unconstitutional.

The 19th Judicial Circuit Court said in a statement Friday that they would be moving ahead with the implementation of the SAFE-T Act because the Lake County state’s attorney was not part of the lawsuit.

“Lake County was not part of the case, therefore, must continue with the implementation of the new law until and unless the Illinois Supreme Court addresses its constitutionality or another order of the court that includes Lake County is entered,” the circuit court said in a statement.

The recent Kankakee County court ruling earlier this week only applies to the parties in the case.

“While it is presumed that an appeal will be made to the Illinois Supreme Court, the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit Court will begin following the SAFE-T Act on Sunday, January 1, 2023,” Chief Judge Mark L. Levitt said.

The Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity Today, or SAFE-T Act, was approved by the General Assembly in January 2021.

It makes several changes to the criminal justice system in the state, including eliminating cash bail statewide, making Illinois the first state to do so.

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The measure went to court with dozens of state’s attorneys filing separate lawsuits.

Those were later consolidated into a single case out of Kankakee County.

Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe argued against the SAFE-T Act last week.

Rowe claimed the measure was unconstitutional by violating the state’s single-subject law, which confines legislation to only one subject.

He also argued that the whole measure is invalid because there is a provision related to redistricting maps.

Darren Kinkead, who argued on behalf of the state, claimed the measure does not violate any single-subject laws because the redistricting would have to do with prisoners and would be included as a part of the criminal justice system.

Kankakee County Judge Thomas Cunnington made a ruling in the case Wednesday evening in favor of the plaintiffs.

His ruling means the bail reform and pre-trial release provisions are unconstitutional and will not go into effect on January 1 in the 65 counties that were plaintiffs in the lawsuit, according to Rowe.

The other provisions in the SAFE-T Act, such as the body camera requirements and police training, were upheld and will still go into effect. Some portions of the SAFE-T Act are already in effect.

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“Today’s ruling affirms that we are still a government of the people, and that the Constitutional protections afforded to the citizens of Illinois – most importantly the right to exercise our voice with our vote – are inalienable,” Rowe said in a statement.

“The Act was a 765 page bill passed during a lame duck session under cover of darkness at 4:00a.m., affording legislators less than one hour to read it and vote on it, and denying the general public any opportunity to offer comment or input,” Rowe said.

“It amended the State Constitution and eroded the constitutional protections of the Victim Rights Act, all while disenfranchising the people of their Constitutional right to vote on such reforms. The people of Illinois deserve better than that, and today’s verdict condemns the Act for exactly what it is: unconstitutional,” Rowe added.

Cunnington said the SAFE-T Act violates the Separation of Powers clause, violates the Victim Rights Act and unconstitutionally amends Article I Section 9 of the Constitution because voters were denied their right to vote on such amendments.

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“… had the Legislature wanted to change the provisions in the Constitution regarding eliminating monetary bail… they should have submitted the question on the ballot to the electorate at a general election,” Cunnington said.

He also said that the legislature’s action in violation of the Separation of Powers “stripped away” the court’s ability to ensure the safety of a victim and their family.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said his office intends to appeal the court’s ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Governor JB Pritzker also released a statement following the ruling, saying that it is a “setback for the principles we fought to protect.”

“The General Assembly and advocates worked to replace an antiquated criminal justice system with a system rooted in equity and fairness. We cannot and should not defend a system that fails to keep people safe by allowing those who are a threat to their community the ability to simply buy their way out of jail. I thank the Attorney General for his work on this case and look forward to the Illinois Supreme Court taking up the appeal as soon as possible,” Pritzker said.