Every reform movement has a lunatic fringe. ― Theodore Roosevelt
Thanks to the Illinois Supreme Court, unlike spring, bail reform is coming to Kane County a little earlier this year. As part of their pilot plan, the Illinois Supreme Court sought three volunteer circuits to test those “Pretrial Fairness Act” waters, and Kane County’s 16th made the cut. The full law goes into effect on January 1, 2023.
Now, I could write an entire column covering the vagaries of this new law, but suffice it to say that Illinois will be the first state in the nation to eliminate the cash bail system. New Jersey, Maryland, and New Mexico have adopted similar reforms, but their judges can still apply a cash bond in limited circumstances.
So, going forward, Kane County bond call judges have two choices. They can either remand the accused until trial or release them on their own recognizance. The statute is pretty specific about which defendants fall into which category, but the basic premise is that the men and women in black can only hold an individual if they believe they’re a threat to others or they pose a serious flight risk.
In theory, I’m not opposed to this measure for three good reasons. The first is the bullshit Illinois law that allows circuit clerks to keep ten percent of any posted bond regardless of the accused’s eventual innocence. Why should someone who’s been exonerated be penalized for only being accused of a crime?
The second, and most important argument, is no alleged minor offender should have to sit in jail for the “crime” of being unable to afford the smallest bond. What’s the point of “hosting” a non-violent offender at great taxpayer expense, potentially compounding that problem with a job loss?
And third, the cash bail system has historically been overly onerous to minorities who’ve been asked to post bond in higher amounts more often than white folks charged with a similar crime.
All that said, some of the scariest words in the English language have to be, “Illinois will be the first state in the nation to (fill in the blank).” We all know this is where bad ideas come to flourish and I’m betting that the theory behind this “reform” and its actual execution will turn out to be two entirely different things.
The frequent irony of these one-size-fits-all laws is they inevitably generate the sort of unintended consequences that almost always make matters worse. And that’s typically true for the segment of society they’re purported to protect. To wit, after New Mexico and Maryland adopted their “bail reform,” the number of pretrial detentions actually increased because judges had no cash bond option.
Then, despite my propensity to scrutinize bad judges a bit more often than my peers, any law that limits judicial discretion, by its very nature, subverts the justice system. There’s a reason we call them “judges” and not “robot umpires.”
A perfect example is the infamous 90s “Three Strikes” laws which forced judges to sentence low-level non-violent repeat street offenders to far longer stretches than convicted murderers.
The answer to judges who abuse their discretion is not sentencing mandates. The answer to bad judges is to offer a reasonable pathway to remove them.
But the issue that concerns me most is this one. In their self-proclaimed “infinite wisdom,” the Springfield Black Caucus refused to solicit any input from law enforcement whatsoever. And that error is always compounded by those diehard Democrats’ unerring propensity to believe that they can legislate a problem away, despite a mountain of evidence indicating otherwise.
Put more simply, the answer to bad law enforcement officers isn’t to remove law enforcement’s teeth, it’s to get rid of the bad officers.
One of the first unintended consequences will be how these complicated new bond rules will force the current one-to-two-hour daily bond call to expand to seven full days a week. That means the minor offenders who’d normally be out before noon will now have to spend at least a full day in jail. That will means that Sheriff’s deputies will have to spend more time handling the overflow.
Just like it is with any good unfunded Springfield mandate, the 16th Circuit will similarly have to find a way to pay all of the associated courtroom personnel required to make that expanded bond call. And who do you think Kane County will come to cover those new expenses?
Worse yet, bond call is already a bit of a quagmire. There’s always one overworked and underprepared assistant state’s attorney working on behalf of the people; and there’s always one overworked and underprepared public defender working on behalf of the accused. Now, add the fact that most judges would rather teach an errant kindergarten class than have to preside over this messy proposition – particularly on the weekend – and I promised you it will be more than fascinating.
Despite those issues, it worked well enough when it was a mere two hours. But eight hours a day? Given the average judge’s deficient patience quotient, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be a defendant who’s case comes up during the last hour of a long Sunday bond call.
In part two (and perhaps part three) we’ll be covering Sheriff Ron Hain’s and Chief Judge Clint Hull’s specific thoughts on more rapidly moving forward with this reform fiasco in great detail. Please stay tuned.