Supreme Court decision on the future of cash bail is expected Tuesday, one day after Cook County yanked online court streams

Gov. JB Pritzker holds a copy of the SAFE-T Act after signing it into law on February 22, 2021. | @govpritzker

CHICAGO — Four months after hearing arguments, the Illinois Supreme Court will release an opinion on Tuesday that will either eliminate cash bail in the state or keep it as the law of the land. The court “anticipates” releasing its opinion in Rowe v. Raoul at 9 a.m., according to a statement.

The state legislature’s sweeping criminal justice legislation passed in 2021, known as the SAFE-T Act, banned using cash deposits as a pre-trial release “surety” effective January 1, 2023.

But dozens of state’s attorneys, sheriffs, and other local officials filed lawsuits challenging the law’s constitutionality. Those cases were combined into a single case heard in Kankakee County.

On December 28, three days before cash bail would be eliminated, Chief Judge of the 21st Judicial Circuit Thomas Cunnington decided that eliminating cash bail would be unconstitutional. But the judge found other aspects of the law challenged in the lawsuits passed legal muster.

“In his ruling, Judge Cunnington found that ‘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,'” Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said on Facebook after Cunnington’s decision was released.

Hours before the new year arrived, the state Supreme Court ordered cash bail to remain in place until it could hear and rule on an appeal. Oral arguments were heard in mid-March.

The court’s decision will be handed down one day after the Circuit Court of Cook County pulled the plug on daily live streams of criminal court bond hearings. Hearings were made available online more than three years ago to allow the public to monitor court sessions during the COVID pandemic.

But the county court suddenly announced on July 7 that streams would cease on July 17. In reality, the streams ended on July 16 after two days of streaming without audio. On Friday, the Supreme Court announced its cash bail decision would be released on July 18, the day after Cook County officially nixed online access to hearings.

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