Articles Tagged with bail

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

It has been reported that two men, Jon Ritzheimer and Ryane Payne, involved in the occupation of Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, haveviolated their release conditions by visiting the Bundy ranch in Nevada without permission. Evidently, the evidence was in Facebook photos and discovered by a federal pretrial services officer in Oregon who notified Brown. As a result, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown has moved up Jon Ritzheimer’s date to surrender to prison from Feb. 15 to Jan. 12. Ryan Payne was ordered to return to home detention in Las Vegas. Both men have been forbidden from having contact with any defendant from either the Oregon or Nevada standoff cases before their prison sentences begin.

Originally, Mr. Ritzheimer’s release condition had specified a no-travel restriction that only allowed him to travel from Arizona to Oregon for court proceedings. Mr. Payne was given permission to go from Las Vegas to Montana for Christmas after a mistrial was declared last month for the Bundy-affiliated defendants involved in the Nevada armed standoff in 2014. Neither of the men was allowed to go to the ranch. Judge Brown decided to deal with the allegations informally instead of through formal proceedings.

Violating Release Conditions in California

There are several ways a court can conditionally release you from prison or jail. You can be released on bail before your trial proceedings start, released on your own recognizance (which does not require paying bail), or you can be released on parole after you have already served some jail time.

If you have been released on your own recognizance, it means you have simply promised to attend all court dates and proceedings. See CA Penal Code § 1318. This option is saved for those who are a low flight-risk and are not accused of serious crimes. Failure to appear in court then, results in another misdemeanor if you were charged with a misdemeanor, and a felony, if you faced a felony charge.

If you have been released on bail, that can come with certain conditions from the judge, such as staying away from certain people. A violation of a bail release can result in either a warning, arrest, a revocation of bail (going back to jail), an increased amount of bail, more restrictive bail conditions, and even a contempt of court charge. Continue reading

A federal judge in California, U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte, recently overruled a Brooklyn magistrate judge and ordered a flight attendant held without bail after she allegedly dumped a bag of cocaine and fled authorities at Los Angeles International Airport. This decision came after the judge in Brooklyn had set defendant Marsha Reynolds’ bail at $500,000. This means Reynolds must now remain in custody in New York until she is transported to California to face her drug trafficking charges.

Reynolds, a JetBlue Airways Corp employee, is accused of dropping a 70lb bag of cocaine when she was randomly selected for screening at LAX – taking off her heels and running away.  Eyewitnesses said she had gotten nervous when she was selected and then made a phone call in a foreign language. LAX police soon found 11 packages of cocaine wrapped in cellophane inside one of the bags Reynolds left behind. The drugs are worth about $3 million.

Reynolds later turned herself in to authorities in New York. She was able to board a flight the next day to New York just by wearing her airline tag with her real name on it. This is because flight crews are subject to special security permissions, although they are still subject to random bag checks. In an embarrassing illustration of security breakdown, communication lapses, bureaucratic protocols, and special security privileges afforded to airline employees have contributed to Reynolds’ escaping law enforcement until she surrendered herself four days later at Kennedy Airport in New York.

When Can You Be Held Without Bail?

Bail” is known as the amount of money you must post in order to be released from jail.  Typically, when arrested, those who are being detained have the right to see a bail commissioner within 24 hours to either be given the chance to post bail, or be released out of one’s own recognizance, or his promise to appear in court. In determining bail, a judge or police officer will consider the seriousness of the charges against you, whether you have prior convictions or a record, or whether you pose a flight risk or public threat.

The Bail Reform Act of 1984 allows federal courts to deny bail to a defendant who presents a danger to any person or the community or poses a flight risk (also known as pretrial detention).  Under the act, crimes of violence, murder, and drug offenses where the penalty is 10 years imprisonment or more, presume a defendant is dangerous, and able to be held without bail. Continue reading