The end of cash bail is coming. Here’s how Rockford area court systems are preparing.

With a Sept. 18 deadline looming, the criminal justice system in the Rockford region and across Illinois is racing to prepare for the end of cash bail.

Illinois is the first state to legislate the elimination of cash bail as part of the Pretrial Fairness Act, upending a fundamental process of criminal courts and replacing it with something entirely new.

The change means no more bond court. Instead, in Winnebago County there will be a courtroom reserved full time mornings and afternoons for initial court appearances and pretrial detention hearings. Similar measures are being made in Boone County where courts are adding a Monday morning court call for anyone arrested and held over the weekend.

There are other court calls being reserved for people cited with a “notice to appear,” something that will become more common as more offenses aren’t considered detainable.

Winnebago County Court Administrator Tom Jakeway said the result is that criminal courts and law enforcement are being forced to change how they operate.

“Come Sept. 18 we are still flying a plane, but the cockpit controls and preflight checklists are all different,” Jakeway said. “The pilot and flight crew have new procedures to follow.”

More: Constitutional! Illinois Supreme Court’s SAFE-T Act ruling ends cash bail for state

Big change coming

Money bonds will no longer be used to make sure defendants return to court for trial and hearings, a practice criminal justice reform advocates argued penalized anyone who couldn’t afford bail. Instead, only those defendants arrested for detainable offenses including Class 3 felonies and above can be held in jail until trial.

Those accused of violent crimes, sex assaults, gun crimes and domestic battery among others are also considered detainable in jail before a trial. But to deny a defendant pretrial release, prosecutors must within 48 hours of their arrest show by clear and convincing evidence a defendant is a flight risk or a danger to specific people or the community.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley said the new law will take plenty of adjustment both in terms of staffing and approach.

In some cases, police will be asked to serve warrants, but instead of making an arrest they will issue a notice to appear in court. In other cases, they will have discretion on whether to issue a citation or make an arrest.

“That’s a big change for law enforcement,” Hanley said.

‘That’s frustrating’

There are also what Hanley said are frustrating aspects to the law.

Hanley said judges should have been given wider discretion over pretrial release.

“DUI is a non-detainable offense unless you pick up a second DUI while on pretrial release,” Hanley said. “That’s frustrating to me. As we have been doing bond court, I am like ‘how the heck can we not argue this person is a danger to the community?’ This person has two or three prior DUIs. That to me is a hole in the law in that they have removed the judge’s discretion to detain someone pretrial in certain circumstances.”

If a defendant is charged with injuring or killing someone while driving under the influence, they can be detained, Hanley said, but only if shown to be a danger to the community or a flight risk.

‘Going to be a learning curve’

Although the new law will place a strain on his office because it will require more personnel, Winnebago County Public Defender Nick Zimmerman said he supports the changes.

“Right now, a person who could be the most violent person on Earth is charged with a crime and bond is set at $100,000, they can post that $10,000 and be released because they have money,” Zimmerman said. “On the flip side, you can have someone who is not violent, but poor and is charged with something relatively minor, but doesn’t have 100 bucks to get out. So they sit in custody even though they aren’t violent. They are just poor.”

It will mean plenty of changes for public defenders, Zimmerman said.

Public defenders usually meet their clients for the first time when they show up in bond court.

But the new rules means preparing an argument on why clients are not a flight risk or public safety danger.

Public defenders assigned to pretrial courts are going to spend much of their mornings meeting with those who were arrested the night before to get ready for a 1:30 p.m. first appearance and detention hearing.

“We hope the plan we have figured out will work and if it doesn’t, we will make adjustments as we go,” Zimmerman said. “It’s going to be a learning curve.”

More: Illinois Pretrial Fairness Act on hold, but ‘court watching’ in full effect

Safety paramount

Boone County State’s Attorney Tricia Smith said it’s unclear how the new law will impact public safety. But she said the new system will upset work schedules and strain already short-handed staffs.

“Our main concern is public safety and the safety of victims,” Smith said. “This is a new approach, and only time will tell whether we are able to maintain that safety.”

Some prosecutors may have to rotate working Sundays or get a very early morning start to prepare for Monday morning detention hearings, Smith said.

“We are getting communications from the jail early in the morning — 4:30 or 5 o’clock in the morning. They are sending out emails so we can prepare for what the day is going to look like depending on what happened during the overnight hours,” Smith said. “Because it’s all new, we are going to see how it works for a few months and then make decisions.”

Jeff Kolkey can be reached at (815) 987-1374, via email at and on Twitter @jeffkolkey.

This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: End of cash bail means changes to Rockford area court system

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