Judges debrief after the first week on no cash bail in Illinois

Published: Sep. 22, 2023 at 6:33 PM CDT
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PEORIA (25News Now) - Judges in McLean, Tazewell, and Peoria County say the process has been going relatively smoothly since the launch of the pre-trial fairness SAFE-T Act.

Tazewell County felony court presiding Judge Chris Doscotch had to make a tough decision on Friday regarding Ezekiel Metcalfe’s freedom as he awaits trial.

Metcalfe was arrested and charged with criminal sexual abuse and aggravated battery on Tuesday. Judge Doscotch decided, under the new SAFE-T Act, Metcalfe would be released with conditions. He declared during the hearing that this was a hard decision because it was his first detention hearing on such a serious topic.

“Everyone’s been working well together, it’s something new,” Judge Doscotch said. “I think we’re well prepared, and things have actually been going pretty smoothly.”

Judge Doscotch has only seen three detention hearings since the new act took full effect on Monday. He says the process is relatively the same, and they’re just working through the kinks of logistics such as making sure defense lawyers have all the reports, getting petitions filed, and getting people heard in a reasonable amount of time.

“To try and do that within 24 hours or six hours of being arrested sometimes is just not practical,” Judge Doscotch said.

Peoria County associate judge in the misdemeanor court, Sean Donahue, says he has only seen two detention hearings since Monday; before the change, he said he would see at least one bond hearing every day.

“The state is being pretty intentional on what cases they’re going to try to do detention hearings on,” Judge Donahue said.

He says it’s still tough to determine how the new process is going so early on, but the statute outlines the new law well.

“The statute is pretty specific on what we have to see to detain an individual, and it’s an extremely high bar,” said Judge Donahue.

The judges from McLean, Tazewell, and Peoria County feel the stakes are bigger and there’s more responsibility, but that’s the nature of their job.

“That’s part of being a judge because, in the end, you have two sides, and I don’t look at it any differently. I’m doing a little bit of a different analysis of whether it’s detention or release compared to setting cash bail, but in the end, the judge makes the decision,” said Judge Doscotch.

Judge Doscotch decided to release Metcalfe with conditions because he has no prior criminal history and is not a flight risk. He also no longer works as a door-to-door salesman after quitting on Tuesday. Judge Doscotch found it as a probational offense but ensures he’s not downplaying and says Metcalfe is on thin ice.