© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Illinois will no longer have cash bail on Monday. What does that mean in the Metro East?

A clock dedicated to Curt Weisenstein frames the St. Clair County Administration Building on Tuesday, May 23, 2023, in Belleville. Weisenstein was a man who disabled by a brain injury at birth and died at age 69 due to cancer. In life, he was familiar to the business owners in downtown Belleville, according to reports. He was known to help people set their watches and clocks, while keeping an eye on clocks in the businesses he visited daily.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Illinois' 20th Judicial Circuit, based at the St. Clair County Courthouse in Belleville, has designated one judge to handle the new pretrial hearings on Monday. The judge will determine if a defendant should be jailed between court appearances.

The Metro East, along with the rest of Illinois, will no longer have cash bail as of Monday.

For the Circuit courthouses in St. Clair and Madison counties, the top judges said they have spent months preparing for the historic shift in criminal cases. Illinois is the first state in the country to eliminate cash bail.

“I'm confident that my judiciary is ready,” said Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson of Illinois' 20th Circuit, which serves St. Clair County based out of Belleville.

The new legislation was scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2023. However, legal challenges to its constitutionality slowed implementation of the SAFE-T Act until the Illinois Supreme Court ruledin July.

The delay actually helped in planning, said Kyle Napp, chief criminal judge in Illinois’ 3rd Circuit, which covers Madison and Bond counties.

“It was nice to have these nine months to sit back, look at all we’ve been doing, look at our forms, look at our procedures and see if there’s a better way to do it,” Napp said.

While both judges said the judicial systems were ready for the historic changes in January, they still anticipate this will add work for the county’s public defenders and the state’s attorneys prosecuting the cases. The same can be said for the staff transporting defendants to and from the county jails.

“At some point in time, I'm going to have to add public defenders,” Gleeson said. “There's no question in my mind. We already are stressed to the limit on our public defender's office.”

In smaller counties, these consequences will also be a problem, WBEZ reported.

That’s because the new law will require more robust hearings for the state’s attorney to prove the defendant should be held in jail. A public defender will automatically be appointed to represent the defendant. They can, however, hire a private lawyer.

Even with all the changes happening to the court system — and passionate political debate surrounding them — both judges said they wanted to emphasize the changes will not make the region less safe.

“This is not Armageddon,” Gleeson said. “We are not swinging the doors open and letting everything loose on our community.”

Academic studies have shown that bail does not increase a defendant’s likelihood to appear in court. Gleeson hopes the elimination of cash bail creates a fairer system of pretrial detention.

“We're going to be detaining those people who are dangerous to our community and to themselves,” Gleeson said. “And the other folks, we're going to hopefully treat in a fair, more equitable manner until a jury of their peers has decided their fate.”

For Napp, she said she knows many Illinoisans questioned eliminating cash bail and its impact on public safety.

“The unknown is always scary for people,” she said.

She and Gleeson said both courthouses and jails have not been detaining defendants accused of lower level misdemeanors. With the SAFE-T Act’s implementation, that shouldn’t change.

“I would hazard a guess that there is not one person sitting in our jail right now who wouldn't be sitting in our jail under the SAFE-T Act,” Napp said.

The Madison County Courthouse on Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Edwardsville.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Madison County Courthouse in Edwardsville will use one judge to handle the court's initial appearances and pre-trial hearings for criminal defendants.

The logistics

In St. Clair County, Gleeson said one courtroom and one judge will handle all the pretrial hearings on a morning and afternoon schedule. That will be in addition to four felony courtrooms already in Belleville.

At the pretrial hearing, the judge will determine if the state’s attorney’s office has made a strong enough argument to keep the defendant in jail after they’ve been charged with a crime. The SAFE-T Act sets a higher bar for who can be held in jail.

If detained, the jail system will function like it had previously and house the defendant until a trial or plea deal is bargained. If the judge determines otherwise, the defendant will be released until their court appearance.

Under the current system, a felony judge would set bond, and a defendant could pay 10% to be released on the condition they would return for their scheduled court appearances.

In Edwardsville, Napp said one judge will handle the initial appearances and the pretrial hearings in the afternoon.

Thanks to a decision from the Illinois Supreme Court two weeks ago, both judges said they are working to hold trials remotely if needed, which could reduce some of the burden on the staff of the criminal justice system.

In addition to the courtroom, this new law will also change policing. Lower-level misdemeanors will likely not lead to an arrest. Instead, police will ticket a person and give them a court date.

“This changes the criminal justice system, in its operations, as I've known it my whole career,” Gleeson said.

Both judges said Monday and the days after will be a testing ground.

“We're all understanding that we're going to need to adapt,” Napp said.

Will Bauer is the Metro East reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.