California Legislature Moves to Eliminate Money Bail

Bail bonds (David McNew / Getty)
David McNew / Getty
CHRISS W. STREET
Newport Beach, CA

California Democrats in the State Senate voted Tuesday to eliminate money bail and grant judges control over pre-trial incarcerations.

The Senate voted to pass “SB-10 Pretrial Release Or Detention: Pretrial Services” by a 26-to-12 vote, almost entirely on party lines. The bill now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown for signature.

Brown pledged last year to work with the Democrat-controlled legislature and Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to pass the reform before leaving office in January, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) launched its Campaign for Smart Justice last December to abolish money bail, which it considers a predatory system that allows people to sit in jail awaiting trial simply because they are too poor to afford the cost of their release.

The ACLU and California Democrats point to bail injustices revealed in a New York City Criminal Justice Agency study that found non-felony conviction rates jumped from 50 to 92 percent for those jailed pre-trial, while the felony rate jumped from 59 to 85 percent.

Gov. Brown praised the reform bill in a statement: “Today, the Legislature took an important step forward in reducing the inequities that have long plagued California’s bail system.”

But the ACLU announced that it had changed its position to oppose the final language of the billS:

Unfortunately, this amended version of SB 10 is not the model for pretrial justice and racial equity that the ACLU of California envisioned, worked for, and remains determined to achieve. We oppose the bill because it seeks to replace the current deeply-flawed system with an overly broad presumption of preventative detention. This falls short of critical bail reform goals and compromises our fundamental values of due process and racial justice.

The Times reported that Republican Senator Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado Hills) said that eliminating bail would put a big financial burden on California’s 58 counties, and expects that SB 10 will be overturned in constitutional challenges in the courts.

Republican Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) spoke for most of his GOP colleagues when he argued that California’s criminal justice system has already weakened by liberal reforms in recent years. He added that under SB 10, “criminals are free to continue victimization.”

This article has been corrected to remove the name of a Republican State Senator who did not, in fact, vote for the bill.

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