The Illinois General Assembly’s “Pretrial Fairness Act” will end the practice of setting cash bail in the state of Illinois on January 1. However, the rules governing the release of defendants from detention prior to their trials remain unclear. According to social media posts, crimes such as kidnapping and second-degree murder will no longer be considered “detainable offenses” in Illinois in the near future, but judges and prosecutors will have to meet certain criteria before deciding whether or not a criminal defendant will be held in custody before their trials.
Defendants will be detained prior to trial if the court determines they “represent a specific, real, and present threat to a person or have a high likelihood of purposeful flight,” according to the bill’s language. If a judge rules that a defendant meets these conditions and must remain in custody, the judge’s decision must be explained in writing in accordance with the terms of the bill.
According to Illinois officials, at these hearings, they will consider the defendant’s criminal history and personality, as well as the specifics of the charges against them. Except in exceptional circumstances, courts are required to grant bail to defendants charged with minor offenses and most misdemeanors.
Before the state will consider detaining a defendant pending trial, they must be charged with a “forcible felony,” or a crime for which a conviction carries a mandatory prison sentence. The bill defines first and second degree murder, predatory criminal sexual assault, robbery, burglary, arson resulting in great bodily injury, kidnapping, and aggravated battery resulting in great bodily harm as felonies.
Along with the foregoing, the list will include stalking, domestic battery, and the vast majority of sex-related crimes. If the prisoner is charged with one of these offenses or there is strong evidence that they will “willfully flee to avoid prosecution,” pre-trial parole may be denied.
Previously, judges had the authority to set bond amounts for most offenses, with defendants only required to post 10% of the specified amount in order to be released from jail. If the defendant violates the terms of their bond in any way, including failing to appear for scheduled court appearances or other similar behavior, a new arrest warrant may be issued.
Several law enforcement officers have questioned the definition of a violation for a defendant who is free pending trial, claiming that the new rule is unclear. The Illinois Supreme Court has assembled a team to review the bill’s implementation process and make recommendations for changes before January 1, 2019.