The Illinois Supreme Court upheld a measure on Tuesday eliminating cash bail in the state, finding that Democratic legislators acted properly when they passed the law, which will transform the Illinois criminal justice system and limit judges’ ability to hold defendants in jail before trial.
The Illinois law, which went beyond similar bail overhauls in other states, was part of a national push to reduce jail populations and end a system in which wealth can determine whether a defendant returns home to await trial. But it infuriated many county prosecutors and sheriffs, who asserted that the law was passed improperly and made the state less safe.
In its ruling on Tuesday, the Supreme Court said cash bail would end in Illinois on Sept. 18.
Cash bail has been widely used for decades. Rather than sit in jail waiting for a trial that may not begin for months, a defendant is allowed to deposit money with the court and remain free. But if they fail to show up when they are supposed to, the defendant risks losing that money.
Civil rights groups and politicians, many of them Democrats, have long called for limiting or abolishing that system, and for allowing more defendants to be released without having to put up money. Critics say the cash bail system is unfair to poor defendants, who risk losing jobs or homes if they cannot afford to post bail.
New Jersey and New Mexico have vastly reduced the use of cash bail but have not ended it completely. New York has eliminated it for certain types of offenses but not others. Those moves also led to fierce opposition, and some second-guessing.
The Illinois law passed with broad Democratic support and was signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, part of a shift to the political left since Democrats reclaimed full control of state government in the 2018 election.