McClure: Illinois cash bail reforms make the public less safe
State Sen. Elgie Sims, who sponsored legislation to end cash bail and make it more difficult for judges to hold defendants in jail, was the victim of an apparent road rage crime involving an armed suspect in Springfield last week. In a recent interview with Capitol Fax's Rich Miller, Sen. Sims said that he was “a little pissed off that [the suspect]” was no longer in jail.
During my nearly six years as a prosecutor in Sangamon County, I handled many similar reports. I was sorry to hear about the serious and troubling crime that was reported. I’m glad that Sen. Sims is safe and that police arrested a suspect.
It is important to note, however, that when Sen. Sims’ criminal justice reform legislation takes effect in January 2023, this very same crime would result in a suspect being released without posting any bond at all, and a judge would lose much of their discretion to detain suspects of all sorts of crimes. In many instances, including cases of witness intimidation, and most cases of robbery, burglary, and arson, the judge will not be able to detain the suspect at all, even if they are a real and present danger to the victim or the community at large. They will have to be released without any bail.
As for the suspect in Sen. Sims’ case, the bail amount was set by a judge who could have set the amount so high that the suspect would not have been able to bond out. Alternatively, the judge could have released the suspect without having to post any bail. In this instance, the judge chose a middle ground.
The suspect was released after paying $15,000. If the suspect fails to show up to court or violates the pretrial release conditions, he will be rearrested and will likely never see that money again.
When Sen. Sims’ legislation takes effect, however, the judge’s hands will be tied. The felony offense that the suspect was charged with, Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon, would only be eligible for jail (at the judge’s discretion) if the suspect’s “pretrial release poses a real and present threat to the physical safety of any” specifically identifiable person.
The suspect’s danger to the public at large will not be considered. The judge would likely not find that the suspect was a real and present threat to Sen. Sims. The current evidence suggests that this was an incident of road rage involving two strangers. There is no record of the suspect making any threats towards Sen. Sims before or after the incident, no indication that the suspect had any idea who Sen. Sims is or where he lives, and the gun in question was confiscated.
Under Sen. Sims’ legislation, HB 3653, a similar suspect would be released without the posting of any bond at all, and the judge would lose critical discretion in place to protect our communities.
While it must be noted that the suspect in this case is presumed innocent until proven guilty, we must remember that many innocent victims have been targeted by suspects that have been released in Cook County after they enacted bail reforms. I am not opposed to bail reforms and believe they are necessary. I am opposed, however, to legislation that puts our law-abiding citizens in greater danger. I hope that work can be done to correct these issues before these controversial changes take effect, for the safety of every community across the state.