Articles Tagged with bail reform

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.

The new law, called Senate Bill No. 11 at Chapter 244 can be found here.   Continue reading

California appears to be on the cusp of initiating a statewide reform of their bail laws. The state’s notoriously high rates for bail have put it first in the nation, with an average bail of almost $50,000 per person accused of a crime. Critics of the current system argue that the high costs are unjustified and essentially jail individuals because they are poor. The sky-high bail rates increase the populations of an already-overcrowded jail system at no small expense to taxpayers. According to a study by the UCLA School of Law, California jails 59% of all people accused of a crime in the state at a cost of roughly $204 per day. Nationwide, only 32% of individuals accused of crimes are held until their trial, and the average pretrial supervision program costs a mere $15.

The state’s ineffective bail system gained national attention this month when an elderly man in San Francisco was held on a $350,000 bail, despite being accused of minor crimes. The San Francisco resident, Kenneth Humphrey, was accused of stealing $5 and a bottle of cologne. In response, the police charged him with robbery and residential burglary because he allegedly stepped into his neighbor’s room to take the cologne and $5 bill. Unable to pay the $350,000 in bail, Humphrey spent 250 days awaiting trial in San Francisco County Jail.

After a panel of state appellate court judges ordered a new bail hearing in January, the judges did not mince words in their condemnation of Humphrey’s treatment. “A defendant should not be imprisoned solely due to poverty,” the Court said. Humphrey’s treatment was the “antithesis” of the Constitutional protections of liberty and due process. Advocates point out that when impoverished people are held for long periods of time awaiting trial, they not only lose their jobs, but they are also more likely to accept a plea deal – even when innocent – just to be released from jail. While a plea deal results in being released from jail, the person accused of the crime will likely no longer have his or her job. Even worse, with a criminal record, it will be more difficult to locate employment.  

Before the court ruling, California followed a complex bail schedule and algorithmic risk schedules, described by the UCLA School of Law as “opaque.” According to the same study, the for-profit bail industry’s powerful lobbying arm is behind the high bail fees, high prison rates, and ultimately high spending on imprisoning people who are presumed innocent under the Constitution of the United States. Now, according to the judges, prosecutors and judges must take “ability to pay” into account when determining bail.

That argument resonated with California Attorney General Becerra, who said, “Bail decisions should be based on danger to the public, not dollars in your pocket.” The Attorney General joins a growing chorus of California politicians seeking to abolish “cash-only” bail; that list includes Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom, Sen. Kamala Harris, and California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakaueye. According to the three-judge panel in Humphrey’s case, legislation is desperately needed. Thankfully, California has drafted a bail reform bill already in SB 10. All they need to do is sign it.   Continue reading