Prosecutor: Judge declares parts of SAFE-T Act unconstitutional

CHICAGO (CBS) — A Kankakee County judge has ruled that parts of the controversial SAFE-T Act are unconstitutional, according to a prosecutor who was a plaintiff in the case.

The Kankakee County State’s Attorney’s Office announced the ruling by 21st Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Thomas Cunnington late Wednesday, saying it occurred earlier in the day. We have yet to hear from an official of the court, the state of Illinois or any of the 64 other attorneys from the state of Illinois who were plaintiffs in the case.

The new law, which will take effect on Sunday, January 1, eliminates the cash bail, among other things. Judge Cunnington of the Kankakee County State’s Attorney’s Office ruled that the pretrial release and bail reform provisions of the SAFE-T Act are unconstitutional.

The Kankakee County State’s Attorney’s press release said that the immediate effect is that these provisions of the SAFE-T Act will not take effect in the 65 counties that were part of the lawsuit. Cook County is not one of those counties.

In the ruling, according to the Kankakee County State’s Attorney’s office, Judge Cunnington found that “if the Legislature had wanted to change the provisions of the Constitution regarding the removal of money bond…they should have tabled the question on the ballot to the electorate in a general election”.

He also claimed that the Illinois General Assembly’s action violated the separation of powers and “removed” the court’s ability to ensure the safety of victims and victims’ families, according to the Kankakee County state’s attorney’s office.

Other provisions of the SAFE-T Act, such as body cameras, were confirmed, according to the statement.

Just weeks ago, Illinois state legislators passed a revised SAFE-T Act, after months of criticism and concerns about the elimination of cash bail. But the review was not enough for prosecutors in 65 states across the state to drop their lawsuits challenging it.

Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe argued that the law is unconstitutional for several reasons. He argued first, he is vague; second, it violates the rights of crime victims; third, because its approval violated legislative norms and procedures; and fourth, because it infringes the power of the court.

But the Illinois state’s attorney told Judge Cunnington that the state’s attorneys’ arguments are overreach. The Illinois lawyer said there are plenty of precedents that rule out the plaintiffs’ arguments, also arguing that the law would only be unconstitutional if it improperly infringes on the judiciary.

On Wednesday night, Rowe issued the following statement:

“Today’s ruling affirms that we remain a government of the people, and that the constitutional protections afforded to the citizens of Illinois, most importantly, the right to exercise our voice by voting, are inalienable. The law was a draft 765-page bill passed during a lame duck session under cover of darkness at 4:00 a.m., giving lawmakers less than an hour to read and vote on it, and denying the general public any opportunity to offer comments or input. Amended the State Constitution and eroded the constitutional protections of the Victims’ Rights Act, while depriving people of their constitutional right to vote on such reforms. The people of Illinois deserve better than that, and today’s verdict condemns the Act for exactly what it is: unconstitutional.”

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) also issued a statement:

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the often overlooked victims of crime, and for the men and women of law enforcement who wear the badge every day. Legislation of this magnitude must not only be judged on its substance But also because of the process.In that sense, the Illinois Democrats failed the Illinoisans.

“To fix this unilateral, anti-law enforcement, anti-victim act, it is imperative to have a transparent and substantive negotiation with all stakeholders, not just a few stakeholders and political pundits. The people of the State of Illinois do not deserve less”.