CHARLESTON -- Many criminal suspects won't have to post cash bond to get out of jail with a change in Illinois law that goes into effect at the first of the year.
A judge will have to base any monetary bond on a defendant's ability to come up with the money needed and prosecutors will need evidence to show high-risk suspects should be jailed without bond.
Ensuring court appearances and protecting public safety, the two legal aims of cash bond, will be addressed with pretrial conditions such as home monitoring, curfews and drug testing.
The change resulted from contentions that cash bonds could keep people, especially low-income suspects, in jail for long periods awaiting trial, detaining them unfairly and adding to jail overcrowding.
State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said he voted for the change because it clarifies what bond in a criminal case is actually supposed to address.
"Bail is not set to keep someone in jail," he said. "Largely, this is a restatement of the law."
Coles County State's Attorney Brian Bower said he understands the claims behind the change. Some defendants "get trapped in the system," he said, and there were claims of discrimination and how people were jailed "merely based on poverty."
Still, Bower said he thinks the change creates "significant areas of concern," not only for community safety but also for the defendants charged.
A cash bond is "not perfect" but defendants risk losing the money if they don't follow their bond conditions, so there's a financial incentive to comply, he said.
Also, some suspects released could commit more crimes while out of jail, adding to their potential sentences and limiting chances for rehabilitation programs instead of prison, Bower also said.
"It could put them in a position that they can't get beyond the problems they've created for themselves," he said.
Righter, a former prosecutor, said he thinks judges will consider those and other factors when deciding on a defendant's bond. Thoughts that the change will lead to criminals on the streets and not in jail will "be proven to be untrue," he added.
With its much smaller case volume, Coles County doesn't have the problems that Cook County has that led to the law change, Bower said.
He noted that suspects accused of serious crimes, such as first-degree murder and others that require prison time, who might be jailed without bond can go before a judge to have bond set. The prosecution has to present "significant evidence" to keep bond denied, he said.
"In those cases, I feel comfortable that we have a basis to have those people stay in jail," Bower said.
He said the law appears to be "silent" on whether the change affects only new cases or those already filed as well. An attorney for a defendant jailed earlier could file a motion arguing that the change applies, he added.
There's also a new requirement that defendants can have attorneys with them at bond hearings at which they're not currently present, including those required within 48 hours of an arrest.
That will mean a rotation of weekend court coverage for the county's public defender, Assistant Public Defender Terese Matthews said. She said she supports most of the law's requirements and thinks the county already expedites such situations.
"We don't feel like we've been treating defendants in a discriminatory fashion," Matthews said.
Also with the law's change, defendants jailed with a monetary bond set get a $30-per-day credit. When the credit's enough to cover the amount of bond set, the defendant is released and supervised with the pretrial conditions.
Bower said the pretrial program Coles County already uses, and is regularly a a bond requirement in criminal cases, operates much the same way as the bond monitoring will.
Righter said the changes also extends the state's racketeering law, which was needed because it otherwise would have expired this year.