(The Center Square) – Critics of Illinois' newly enacted SAFE-T Act argue Michael Perham stands as the symbol of a far bigger problem around the end of cash bail.
The 52-year-old Perham is now free on bond after being charged with fatally shooting his longtime girlfriend in their Troy home in September. Earlier this month, a Madison County Circuit Court judge denied a state petition to have him returned to custody on the first-degree charges. Perham’s attorneys insist he acted in self-defense.
State Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, criticized the judge’s ruling and the Pretrial Fairness Act that ends cash bail.
“If somebody commits a murder and you’ve got enough evidence to charge them with the murder, I would certainly think that you’d be able to hold them as a threat to the community, particularly if there are witnesses that have come forward,” Caulkins told The Center Square. “Not having the ability to put a bond on them makes everything more difficult.”
Perham remains free on bond despite facing first-degree murder charges in the death of Maha Tiimob after Madison County Circuit Court Judge Neil Schroeder recently upheld his release by rejecting the state’s petition to return him to custody.
Under the guidelines of the SAFE-T Act’s Pretrial Fairness Act eliminating money bond, many criminal defendants have the right to be released from pretrial custody without bail.
“We made very clear that these are going to be problems when we have violent criminals able to just walk free,” Caulkins said. “This is a perfect example of what we talked about. It depends on the county, the state’s attorney and the judges, but we’ve certainly taken away one of the tools our judicial system uses to keep our streets safe. This is something the people that passed this law … are going to have to live with. I think Chicago and Cook County have suffered dramatically from this law.”
While Perham has pleaded not guilty and told authorities he shot Tiimob in self-defense after she attacked him with a knife, authorities have stressed Tiimob was unarmed at the time of the shooting. Of the five gunshot wounds she suffered, two of them were to the back and at least one of the shots was fired at a downward angle, according to authorities.
As bad as he argues things have been since the Pretrial Fairness Act went into effect in September, Caulkins frets he is still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“I think the next thing we’re going to see is our local court systems who have come to rely on proceeds from the bonds to help finance their courts, that revenue stream is now gone,” he said. “From a financial point of view, I think next year is going to be a huge reckoning when these fines are unable to be collected and it’s going to create a tremendous hardship on every county in Illinois.”
Pretrial Fairness Act supporters argue the law evens the legal playing field by helping keep droves of Black and brown criminal defendants from being incarcerated pretrial simply because they can’t afford bail.
“The struggle for changing our current criminal justice system into a system that prioritizes public safety over wealth has been a long and hard-fought battle, but now that we are on the other side, our focus is on ensuring effective implementation,” state Sen. Sen. Robert Peters said in a statement. “We all have a responsibility to keep our ear to the ground and ensure people are not incarcerated simply because they cannot afford to pay their way out.”