A statue is pictured outside of the Illinois Supreme Court building in Springfield. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Jerry Nowicki)

As SAFE-T Act goes live, murder suspects previously eligible to post bond are held in jail

Hearings have been longer, more deliberative – resembling federal detention proceedings

In courtrooms around the state early this week, judges conducted the first hearings under a new system that determines whether a defendant will be jailed while awaiting trial based on dangerousness and risk of fleeing prosecution, rather than their ability to post bail.

The abolition of cash bail was included in the SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform of 2021 and originally slated to take effect Jan. 1, though court challenges delayed its implementation until Monday.

In St. Clair County Circuit Court, where nearly 2,000 felony cases and more than 3,400 misdemeanors are filed annually, at least one person was released from jail to await trial on the second day the SAFE-T Act’s bail reform provisions were in effect.

A woman accused of aggravated domestic battery for hitting her partner with a piece of wood was released on Tuesday morning. A mother of a newborn, she was released after a detention hearing found she was not a flight risk or a threat to the public or a specific person.

St. Clair County held three detention hearings Monday morning. All three were previously held on cash bail in cases filed before the SAFE-T Act went into effect. The new law entitled defendants held in lieu of bail prior to Monday’s effective date to petition to have their cases moved to the new system. 

Two of those defendants stand accused of first-degree murder and another was being held on firearms charges. The hearings resembled detention hearings held in federal court – which has not used cash bail as a detention method since 1984 – with testimony focusing on whether the person is a flight risk or a danger to the public or a specific person.