The (appellate) empire strikes back!

The (appellate) empire strikes back!

Status quo, you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in.’ – Ronald Reagan

As my friend and attorney Jeff Meyer often observes, “On occasion, you do manage to get something right!” And The First Ward certainly hit the nail on the head in regard to our Illinois appellate court justices’ reaction to the onslaught of pre-trial detention (PTD) appeals.

When we last left off, our hypothesis that the SAFE-T Act, or cashless bail as it’s more commonly known, wasn’t working nearly as intended, certainly seemed to be the case. That evidence came in the form of PTD appeals outstripping the “normal” variey appeals by an almost three-to-one margin.

More specifically, the courts have seen 1,900 PTD appeals in just the first five months of the Act compared to the previous annual bond appeal average of 17. Do the math, Dear Reader, and that comes out to a mere 11,176 percent increase.

Given that form of blatant legal insanity, The First Ward also theorized that “those appellate justices are seething over this absurd workload increase,” and, having grabbed their pitchforks and torches, they’d march on the Illinois Supreme Court to insist they reconsider the cashless bond consequences they should’ve considered before unleashing such terrible legislation on an unsuspecting court system.

And sure enough! As of April 15, some serious SAFE-T Act procedural shifts should swiftly reduce the absurd number of pre-trial detention appeals. Those changes include:

  1. Appellants must file a motion before the trial judge before they can appeal their detention.

That stipulation brings the process in line with any other post-trial “motion to reconsider” by eliminating what judges refer to as “a checkbox appeal” requiring no effort on the defendant’s part.

It also compels defendants to craft a legal argument before the judge will reconsider their remand order. As it stands now, all they have to say is “I don’t want to be in jail,” which pretty much sums up the feeling of everyone who’s sitting in jail. Then, when the appellate court does receive a PTD appeal, they can more quickly rule on the merits of that argument as opposed to dealing with the absence of one.

This adjustment might not have much of an impact on the number of PTD appeals, but it will slow the defendant’s roll making the appeal process much more manageable.

  1. Appellants can only file one PTD appeal at a time.

This one’s the biggie because, as previously covered, the SAFE-T Act originally allowed a defendant to appeal every single PTD ruling, unnecessary clogging up the courts. This new requirement forces defendants and their attorneys to think far more strategically about which specific ruling should be the subject of an appeal.

Defendants can still file the same number of appeals, but this one-at-a-time dynamic will greatly reduce the number of concurrent court motions. I know, I know! It’s truly terrifying whenever common sense prevails in a state where bad ideas go to flourish.

  1. The court must be notified within 24 hours if the appeal becomes moot as a result of a case resolution.

This one is almost as big as number two. Here’s why.

A Kane County judge has been regaling me with tales of pleading a case out only to have his PTD decision upheld a week after the fact. Prior to this fix those justices had to rule on every single PDT appeal regardless of its lack of temporal merit.

Now, once they’re notified of a case’s prompt conclusion, they can drop any outstanding PDT appeal like it’s hot.

  1. The court eliminated the 14-day PDT appeal deadline.

The ILSC’s theory is that the short-for-the-courts time 14-day PTD appeal limit was incentivizing defendants into rushing into the motion without truly considering the quality of their argument.

I’m not sure this shift will have much of an effect, but it can always be reversed if it doesn’t.


“But Jeff! Can the ILSC run roughshod over the Illinois legislature in this nonchalant manner?”

Oh, yes they can young padawan. Because when it comes to setting the court standard, those men and women in black can trump Springfield whenever they see fit. They’re called the “Supreme Court Rules,” and every Illinois attorney, plaintiff, defendant, and judge must abide by them regardless of any legislation to the contrary.

That means that our state reps and senators will soon have to amend the SAFE-T Act to these new parameters.

Though these well-warranted fixes are just what the jurisprudence doctor ordered, the essential question remains. “Are fewer defendants awaiting trial in jail than before the Act was implemented last September?”

The final answer will have to come from one of the Chicago newspapers with the horses to acquire and crunch the numbers. But considering the plethora of PTD appeals and this new move to throttle the process, The First Ward’s prediction continues to be that this progressive borne cashless bond boondoggle will backfire to the point where it will either be repealed, or the final statute will look nothing like it does right now.

But regardless of anyone’s predictions, the Act certainly isn’t off to a very good start.

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