While courts across Illinois underwent a seismic change Monday with the elimination of cash bail, it was mostly smooth sailing during the first wave of criminal proceedings in Cook County’s main courthouse.
On Monday morning, the state became the first in the country to officially eliminate the pre-trial practice of requiring that some criminal defendants pay a set cash amount in order to secure their release from custody ahead of trial.
While court operations have changed — there’s technical and language differences, and some court calls are split into separate hearings — there did not appear to be any substantial difficulties, delays or hold ups during the first wave of hearings.
Under the previous bail system, when someone was arrested for a crime, a judge could decide whether that person is eligible to be released from jail as their case plays out if they post a certain amount of money.
But as of Monday, that’s no longer the case in Illinois. If a judge decides a defendant does not pose a public safety or willful flight risk, then they’ll be released without being required to post any money.
People arrested for certain serious felonies — including first- and second-degree murder, predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, aggravated criminal sexual assault and criminal sexual assault, violent robberies and burglaries, residential burglary, home invasion and vehicular invasion — can still be denied pretrial release.
But for that to occur, prosecutors must request a detention hearing and the decision whether to hold someone or not will be made at a judge’s discretion. That ruling is based on factors including the defendant’s likelihood to flee or any public safety risk they may present.
During Monday’s misdemeanor and felony court call at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago, Judge Mary Marubio noted that rather than considering a cash bail, the court would now be setting conditions of release while awaiting trial. Marubio described the court call as “release with conditions court,” telling one defendant that “We’re going to find out the conditions you need to have a successful pre-trial outcome.”
During the very first initial appearance hearing in Cook County, 24-year-old Esmeralda Aguilar was released with conditions following her arrest on four felony charges of aggravated battery to a peace officer.
According to Assistant State’s Attorney Lorraine Scaduto, Aguilar was attending the Mexican Independence Day festivities in the 200 block of North Wabash at around 2:30 a.m. Sunday when she allegedly pulled out a canister of pepper spray and sprayed it at four Chicago police officers.
This was captured on body camera video, Scaduto said, adding that three of the officers required hospitalization, while a fourth suffered pain and discomfort, but did not seek immediate medical treatment.
Aguilar’s public defender noted that this was her first Chicago arrest and that she is the sole provider for a young child. Prosecutors did not seek to detain her in jail pre-trial, so Marubio released her with some set conditions, including that she appear for all her hearings and does not commit another crime.
“You need to be in court on time every time,” Marubio said, noting that if Aguilar violated her release order, it would be revoked and she would be taken back into custody.
Another defendant who appeared in court was detained in jail due to an outstanding warrant he had when he was arrested on a new assault charge. Scaduto initially intended to petition the court for him to be detained on that new charge as well, but instead pulled that request since he is already being held on the warrant.
In a separate courtroom Monday afternoon, Cook County Judge Susana Ortiz decided whether or not to hold a handful of defendants facing more serious charges in jail during an initial round of detention hearings.
During these lengthier proceedings, prosecutors had to convince Ortiz the defendants either posed a substantial safety or flight risk in order to have them held in jail to await their trial.
In one case, Ortiz ordered that 41-year-old Jose Quintana should be released, but placed him on electronic monitoring (EM), after he was arrested on a count of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.
He allegedly pointed a loaded firearm at someone and attempted to run from pursuing police officers. Prosecutors had sought to detain Quintana, and although Ortiz found that he does pose a safety risk, she believed that placing him on EM would be enough to secure the safety of the community.
Another man — 21-year-old Savion Moody — was also placed on EM after he was arrested after allegedly driving a stolen motor vehicle.
‘Here we are’
Several advocates who pushed for this change hailed the shift Monday morning on the steps of the Leighton Criminal Court Building.
State Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, said that when he began calling for an end to cash bail seven years ago, he was met with laughter and derision, being told he and others were “trying to do the impossible.”
“But that was seven years ago and here we are,” he said. “Here we all are.”
Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle said eliminating cash bail is a “practical and ideological shift” and a “historic shift” that will help ensure “equal justice for all.”
— Coalition to End Money Bond (@endmoneybond) September 18, 2023
As of last week, there were more than 800 people detained in the Cook County Jail who were being held there on nothing more than an unpaid cash bail. They will now be able to request a detention hearing to have their bail reviewed and potentially get released from custody.
Cash bail was set to be eliminated at the start of the year, but that implementation was delayed several months by legal challenges brought by opponents to this move who argued that this change was unconstitutional.
The state Supreme Court ultimately disagreed, setting the stage for the shift to take place Monday.
Both prosecutors and public defenders have trained for months to try and ensure a seamless transition. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said her office was ready to move forward with the shift when it was supposed to begin in January.
Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell Jr. said his office has hired more than 100 additional attorneys in recent years with this change in mind.
“There’s a lot of stories that you have written about our criminal justice system here in Illinois,” Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said Monday. “There’s a lot of dark marks — from the legacy and the history of Jon Burge to Ronald Watts to the Greylord scandal of the 80s — that this courthouse has seen a lot of harm. Today, we celebrate. We celebrate what is possible when we put our values and our bravery and our constituents first.”
Video: Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart and Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey join “Chicago Tonight” to discuss the end of cash bail in Illinois. (Produced by Andrea Guthmann)
Across the State
Outside of Cook County, officials across the state also saw a change in their court proceedings.
“Things went well today. We were ready. We filed detention petitions on domestic batterers, an individual who had a gun at a parade, an individual who committed a residential burglary, an individual who committed an aggravated battery,” said Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart. “We filed a detention petition on someone who posted cash bail after they battered a police officer. They posted $35,000 … after battering a police officer, during the cash system, and we filed a detention petition on that individual today after they committed a new offense.”
Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey, who opposed the move, said law enforcement and the courthouse were ready for the change.
“There’s certainly more work to do. We hope the state legislators will continue to keep an eye on what’s going on,” Downey said.