BELVIDERE, Ill. (WTVO) — On the same day that Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley filed suit against Gov. Pritzker over the passage of provisions in the upcoming SAFE-T Act, Boone County State’s Attorney Tricia Smith has also filed suit.
Smith and Boone County Sheriff Dave Ernest “are joining a bipartisan coalition of state’s attorneys and sheriffs throughout Illinois who are challenging the constitutionality of the Safe-T Act passed by the Illinois legislature in January 2021.”
“Since the bill’s passage, a group of state’s attorneys have met with the legislature regarding concerns of the bill with hopes of finding a legislative solution,” Smith said. “Those efforts have failed up to this point and at this time, to protect the interests and the safety of the people of Boone County, a lawsuit was filed on October 5, 2022.”
State’s attorneys from Jo Daviess, Ogle, McHenry, Brown, DuPage, Kankakee, Will, Knox, Vermillion, Greene, Scott, Sangamon, Jersey, Moultrie, Douglas, and Effingham counties, have all filed lawsuits against the state, claiming the “pretrial fairness” provisions in the law changes 40 different state statutes.
The Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act, or the SAFE-T Act, was introduced by the Illinois Black Caucus as part of Black legislators’ response to the murder of George Floyd, and was passed by the Illinois Senate and House of Representatives in the early hours of Jan. 13, 2021.
Gov. JB Pritzker signed the bill into law on Feb. 22 of that year, whereupon it became known as Public 101-0652.
The act abolishes the money bail system beginning Jan. 1, 2023. According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the cash bail system disproportionately impacts Black and brown communities and other underrepresented or impoverished groups, who can’t afford bond.
“Some aspects of the bill, including taking away the court’s discretion to detain individuals on any criminal charge based on facts of the charged case, the defendant’s criminal history, prior failure to come to court, and/or the danger they pose to individuals or the community at large, are very troubling for the safety of our community,” Smith said in a press release.
“Additionally, by filing suit at this time and consolidating the suit with others filed by state’s attorneys and sheriffs, Boone County would likely benefit from any stay or other ruling in the consolidated suit. If Boone County does not join, it is possible that Boone County would be excluded from any stay granted, similar to the COVID-related lawsuits,” she continued.
Gov. JB Pritzker has defended the law, saying it would make release impossible for people accused of the worst crimes.
Advocates for the abolishment of cash bail view it as a pillar of institutional racism within the criminal justice system.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has said his office is in discussions about “a number of issues” with the state’s SAFE-T Act, and changes could be made to the language of the law before it takes effect.
Gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey (R) met with Illinois Sheriffs in September and promised to repeal the law if he is elected.
Illinois is the first state in the country to completely abolish cash bail.