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After years of debate and preparation, elimination of cash bail begins in Illinois

Madeline Buckley, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO — During a detention hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building Monday afternoon, an assistant state’s attorney argued to a judge that a defendant facing a felony weapons charge should be held in jail while awaiting trial.

“The defendant did in fact flee on foot while holding a handgun,” Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Sorrentino said. “He was seen on camera pointing the gun at an individual … the state’s position is that the defendant poses a real and present threat to safety.”

Assistant Public Defender Lillian McCartin, though, countered that the pod camera the prosecutor referenced had not been turned over to the defense. The prosecutor previously told the judge the state did not yet have the video.

“The state is relying totally on pod camera they do not possess,” McCartin said, arguing that the state had also not shown her client to be a flight risk.

The detention hearing was among the first in Cook County held after long-sought reforms took effect Monday, abolishing cash bail as a potential condition for release and changing the way pretrial hearings are conducted.

State lawmakers, Cook County officials and advocates who worked to pass bond reform legislation marked the first day of implementation with a news conference on the steps of the Leighton Criminal Courts Building Monday morning where they lauded what they said was a historic moment meant to create more equity in the criminal justice system. Illinois is the first state to fully eliminate cash bail, making it a closely watched national bellwether.


“Today, we end an antiquated and unjust system that has disproportionately harmed our communities of color and the poor,” said Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch. “We are one step closer to a detention system that puts victims first.”

Inside the courthouse, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and staff worked through the changes on the ground, using new paperwork and new guidelines for arguing cases and making decisions.

The detention hearing for the defendant facing the gun charge offered a glimpse into the new framework — which provides for hearings that last a little longer, with more tussling over the actual evidence in the earliest stage of a case.

In that case, Cook County Judge Susana Ortiz ordered the defendant released on electronic monitoring, denying the state’s petition for detention.


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