Suspects accused of violent felonies, some with extensive criminal records, are now roaming the streets of Illinois as they await trial thanks to a liberal law that ended cash bail in the state, a Washington Free Beacon review found.
After that law went into effect mid-September, an array of violent arrestees who may have otherwise remained behind bars were released from custody without bail. One Illinois man, whose rap sheet includes 15 arrests, was released after he allegedly bit a police officer and squeezed the officer's testicles. Another man, who was already on parole for armed robbery, avoided pretrial detention after allegedly breaking into a high-end boutique. A third woman was released from custody after she appeared to attack four Chicago police officers—the woman's release came on the first day the state's bail reform law went into effect.
The releases provide a window into the impact of the state's SAFE-T Act, which passed in 2021 but faced an array of legal challenges before it went into effect earlier this month. While many liberal cities have enacted policies to scale back cash bail, Illinois is the first state to abolish it. Out of 102 county prosecutors, 100 opposed the law. Many of those prosecutors blasted the state's liberal legislature for imposing measures on localities where law enforcement officials oppose an end to cash bail.
"Unfortunately, the citizens of Illinois who are the sovereign authority were not consulted in this significant matter," Will County prosecutor James Glasgow said after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in favor of the bail reform law's constitutionality. "I will continue to fulfill the oath of office to the best of my ability, and I pray to God that prosecutors and law enforcement will continue to be able to properly address violent crime and maintain the safety of our communities given the serious limitations placed on all our agencies by the act."
Illinois Democratic governor J.B. Pritzker, who hailed the "historic" statute as a critical step toward a "more equitable and just Illinois," did not return a request for comment.
One of the released suspects, Nicholas Koczor, was charged with three counts of aggravated battery to a peace officer. Koczor also faces phone harassment charges after prosecutors said he left his girlfriend a voicemail that implied he could dismember her body. Koczor was arrested for the alleged offenses in 2022 and remained in jail after failing to post bond. Once the SAFE-T Act went into effect, however, Koczor filed a petition for his release.
Terry Johnson, who was already on parole for armed robbery and aggravated battery, was released after allegedly breaking into a high-end boutique. Johnson and six other suspects helped steal $68,000 worth of purses and other merchandise. Esmeralda Aguilar, meanwhile, allegedly battered four police officers in downtown Chicago, two of whom required medical attention. Cook County prosecutor Kim Foxx, who has received millions in campaign contributions from liberal billionaire George Soros, failed to file a detention motion in the case, meaning Aguilar was immediately released.
For state lawmaker John Curran (R.), Aguilar's release shows that Illinois Democrats are "prioritizing violent offenders" over law enforcement and victims of crime.
"This highlights the misplaced priorities of Illinois's criminal justice system when the prosecutor prioritizes the freedom of a violent offender over the safety of those police officers dedicated to protecting and serving our communities," Curran said. "Is there any wonder why police recruitment is at an all-time low in this state?"
Under the SAFE-T Act, formally known as the Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity-Today Act, prosecutors must make the case for why a suspect should be held in custody. Only forcible felonies qualify for pre-trial detention, and in those cases, variables such as the defendant’s flight risk, the likelihood they will return to court, and their danger to the community are considered.
Calls to end cash bail gained momentum in Illinois and elsewhere following George Floyd's death in 2020. Illinois Democrats started drafting the SAFE-T Act's provision following Floyd's death, when support for left-wing police reform increased. In much of the country, however, that support has since waned as U.S. cities experience spikes in violent crime. In the spring of 2022, for example, 65 percent of Michigan voters said they oppose legislation to lower or eliminate bail bonds, according to a poll.
The House Judiciary Committee earlier this week held a hearing on Chicago crime, which has spiked in recent months. House Democrats declined to attend the hearing, blasting it as a political stunt, while Pritzker accused the committee's Republicans of engaging in "fearmongering and lies."