Cook County Study Suggests Judges Are Ignoring Bail Guidelines

Assault Battery Joliet IllinoisWhen a person is arrested on suspicion of a crime, there is likely to be a significant amount of time between the arrest and eventual trial. During that period, the court has three options: the defendant can remain in jail until trial; the defendant can be released on his or her own recognizance after promising to appear when requested; or a bail amount can be set as a financial incentive for the defendant to be released and still appear at trial. Determining an appropriate bail amount can be complex, as one might expect, but the law in Illinois and in individual counties provides guidelines for doing so. A recently obtained study, however, suggests that judges in at least one local county have been playing by their own rules when setting bail for criminal defendants.

Serious Discrepancies

The Chicago Sun-Times¬ obtained a review conducted earlier this year by the Cook County sheriff’s office. The study looked at cases from 30 daily court sessions between February and March in Central Bond Court at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse at 26th and California. The review included more than 1,500 cases and showed that the bail decisions made by the judges in these cases deviated from the guidelines at a rate of approximate 85 percent. Even amidst the complicated variables and circumstantial considerations, the sheriff’s department described the bail decisions as “inconsistent.” The review also indicated that the amount and conditions of bail were largely dependent upon which judge presided on a particular day.
County officials and judges dispute the sheriff’s department review, claiming that its numbers are not representative of the bigger picture. A court spokesman said that 1,500 cases were too small of a sample size to draw accurate conclusions. He went on to say that judges are following the prescribed guidelines, but that, in some cases, sound judgment appropriately overrides written recommendations and required risk assessments.

Making Reasonable Bail Decisions

According to Illinois law, the court must take into account three dozen different factors when setting bail, including the nature of the crime, status of the victim, and the defendant’s financial situation. Ultimately, the law prescribes that when bail is appropriate, the amount should be:

• Sufficient to assure compliance with the bail order;
• Not oppressive; and
• Reflective of the financial ability of the defendant.

Studies around the country have suggested that lower-income individuals are disproportionately affected by bail practices, requiring many such defendants to sit in jail while their cases are pending. By comparison, those accused of similar crimes but who have more financial resources are able to go about their lives more easily in the interim.

If you have been arrested for a crime and will soon be facing a bail hearing, you need an experienced Joliet criminal defense attorney at your side. We will fight to ensure that the amount of your bail is reasonable and commensurate with the offense for which you have been charged. For more information or to set up a free consultation, call 815-740-4025 today.