On Tuesday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a landmark criminal justice bill into law making California the first state to abolish cash bail in criminal cases. Judges now have the discretion to decide who is released on their own recognizance or who must remain in custody pending trial following an arrest for a criminal offense.
In the past, accused people had to buy their release through a bail bondsman or with cash. Now people will be released with no bail on their own recognizance or under supervised conditions.
Criminal justice reform advocates have long sought an overhaul of the bail process arguing the system was not favorable to the poor and overcrowded jails with defendants accused of minor offenses. Judges must now determine who is a public safety threat or a flight risk when making custody determinations.
Bail Schedule Abolished
Bail in California is set according to a fixed bail schedule. The charge and defendant’s prior criminal record are factors in determining bail amount. The judges were required to set bail according to the schedule. If the accused person could not pay cash bail they hired the services of a bail bonds person who would pay bail for a fee.
New Risk Assessment System to be Established
The new law goes into effect in October 2019. Bail will no longer be determined by schedule; instead judges will use a risk assessment system that is yet to be established. The preliminary framework includes two tracks for determining bail.
The first track is related to people charged with non-violent minor or misdemeanor charges. Considered low to medium risk, these individuals will be released 12 hours after they are arrested and booked and before they see the judge. No cash bail will be imposed. They will be given a future date to appear in court for arraignment and disposition of the case.
The second track is reserved for individuals considered medium to high risk or accused of violent offenses or are repeat offenders. These individuals will remain in custody (jail) until a bail hearing or trial. No bail will be set. Judges will consider the accused person’s criminal history, the nature of the offense (violent or non-violent) charged, and the accused person’s appearance history. If the individual failed to appear in court before, he or she may not receive bail and instead remain in custody until their case is resolved.