Deadline approaches for bail reform measures in all Illinois counties

Illinois counties have until the beginning of the year to be ready for the new bail reform law requiring an attorney to be at the initial court appearance of all arrested individuals.

The Bail Reform Act, signed into law in June, reinforces using non-monetary bail for certain offenses and also requires a public defender or an attorney be present at a bond hearing.

Ben Ruddell, criminal justice reform project director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the changes are a positive step for Illinois.

“We are talking about pretrial detention, so everybody in this situation is innocent until proven guilty,” Ruddell said. “There are important facts and circumstances and factors … to be considered by a court to determine the conditions bond.”

Ruddell said the measures are already in place in some Illinois counties, such as his own Cook County.

“I think the sponsor of the legislation learned in their fact-finding around the bill that practices vary downstate where courthouses are further apart and there isn’t the density of attorneys or number of public defenders,” Ruddell said.

Counties will have to ensure public defenders are available on Saturdays and holiday weekends, which could add more than 60 additional work days for some counties.

“Those counties will have to look at their resources and determine if they have enough public defenders to provide that representation, and if not how are they going to do it,” Ruddell said. “Because we can’t have an inequitable system where one set of people have a due process right in one part of the state and something less in another part.”

Ruddell said having a lawyer present at a bond hearing can make a significant difference for a defendant.

“The more we learn about the criminal justice system, the more clear it becomes that this stage of the process is so critical,” Ruddell said. “Whether or not somebody is detained in jail for even a couple of days can have a really lasting impact on that person and whether or not they’re going to have further contact with the criminal justice system.”

The law also eliminates the requirement of cash bail for low-level, nonviolent crimes, such as drug possession, theft and prostitution, for defendants deemed unlikely to flee or who do not pose a threat to the community. In those instances, courts will consider non-monetary bail options, like electronic home monitoring and in-person reporting.

 –Illinois News Network
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