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California Ends Cash Bail, Bail Industry

Jerry Brown bail (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday that makes California to be the first state to abolish cash bail for pre-trial incarcerations.

Brown was surrounded by Assembly Speaker Rendon (D-Los Angeles), Senate President pro Tempore Atkins (D-San Diego), California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, and others at the “SB 10: California Money Bail Reform Act” signing ceremony.

Brown described the new law, which takes effect on October 1, 2019 as establishing a pre-trial system that allows judges to determine a defendant’s custody status based on a non-monetary assessment of public safety risk and the probability of the defendant missing a court date. Brown added: “Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly.”

Each of California’s 58 counties will establish local agencies that will set up a criteria for low, medium and high likelihood of an individual arrested on felony charges showing up for court hearings or being rearrested if released on their honor, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Low-risk evaluations would result in release with the least restrictive nonmonetary conditions; medium risk terms would be determined according to local standards. But high-risk evaluations — those having previously violated conditions of release; having been arrested for a violent felony, or sex crime; having a third DUI within 10 years; or being already on probation — would not be eligible for pre-trial release.

Brown honored the pledge he made last year to work with the Democrat-controlled legislature and Supreme Court Chief Justice 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 progressives pointed 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.

But the ACLU announced on August 20 that it had changed its position and was opposed to the amended version of SB 10 with an overly broad presumption of preventative detention that “is not the model for pretrial justice and racial equity that the ACLU of California envisioned.”

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.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye praised SB 10 as a “transformative day for our justice system” and thanked the “judges in my Pretrial Detention Reform Work Group to bring about a fair and just solution for all Californians.”

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