SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California would be the first state to completely end money bail for defendants awaiting trial under a proposal unveiled Thursday that would create a new system to instead jail people based on their risk level.
Under the proposal, most suspects accused of nonviolent misdemeanors would be released within 12 hours of being booked in jail. People accused of serious, violent felonies would not be eligible for pretrial release.
The proposal would give courts and the state’s Judicial Council wide latitude to determine whether to release other suspects before trial based on the likelihood they’ll return to court and the danger they pose to public safety.
To be released from jail before trial in the current system, many defendants must provide money or property that can be forfeited if they fail to appear in court. The new proposal would end that system in October 2019.
California would be the first state to make such sweeping changes. New Jersey overhauled its pretrial release system in 2017 to dramatically reduce the use of cash bail, although it didn’t ban bail outright.
The bail industry has argued that eliminating cash bail would take away an essential tool in ensuring defendants show up in court.
“We have baked into our law a system that punishes people, that takes away their liberty, that treats them differently just because they have less money in their pocket,” said state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, a Van Nuys Democrat who authored the bill.
Assemblyman Rob Bonta, a Democrat from Alameda, co-authored the bill and said he anticipates the changes would result in fewer people being held in jail before trial.
The American Civil Liberties Union of California supports the idea of eliminating bail but wants the bill to include study of the changes to identify racial bias in the system and include stronger protections to ensure due process, said Natasha Minsker, director of the ACLU’s California Center for Advocacy and Policy. The ACLU was previously a co-sponsor of the bill but has since taken a neutral position.
The amended bill, SB10, passed out of a legislative committee and now heads to the Assembly floor. It needs approval from both houses of the Legislature and a signature from the governor to become law. During an event at the Sacramento Press Club earlier this month, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins both identified bail reform as a top priority this legislative session.
Under the proposal, suspects would be categorized as having “high,” ”medium” or “low” risk of failing to appear in court, endangering public safety or committing a new crime. The determination would be based on the charges against the defendant, their criminal record, missed court appearances in the past three years, and other factors.
Additionally, district attorneys would be required to reach out to victims to ask whether the person should be detained, which would also be considered.
Low risk people would generally be released before trial, although they may be subject to some nonmonetary conditions to ensure public safety and their return to court. The Judicial Council, a rulemaking organization run by the chief justice of California, will determine what options courts have when setting pretrial release conditions.
Local courts would have more latitude in determining whether to release people deemed a medium risk.
Officials would need to decide whether someone deemed a low or medium risk should be released before trial within 24 hours after the person is booked in jail, a potential 12-hour extension.
High risk suspects would not be eligible for pretrial release. Some drug and alcohol charges, restraining order violations, past violations of pretrial release conditions and other factors could also make someone ineligible for pretrial release.
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press.