Gov. Brown on Tuesday signed landmark legislation to eliminate money bail for many California defendants, replacing it instead with a system based on a person’s flight risk and other factors.
“Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly,” Brown said.
The governor’s action culminated years of negotiations over California’s money-based bail system, which keeps low-income defendants locked up awaiting trials or hearings, while affluent defendants can purchase their freedom, at least temporarily.
The legislation followed recommendations of a study group headed by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani-Cantil-Sakauye.
“Under the new law, defendants will be held only if they pose a significant risk to public safety or risk missing their court date,” said a statrement released from Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, author of the bail bill, SB 10. “Recommendations for non-monetary release conditions, such as GPS trackers, electronic home detention, or a number of other proven methods, would instead be made in place of money bail.”
The bill was co-authored by Hertzberg and Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda.
The legislation followed recommendations of a study group headed by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani-Cantil-Sakauye. That group noted that the existing bail system “unnecessarily compromises victim and public safety because it bases a person’s liberty on financial resources rather than the likelihood of future criminal behavior.”
The California Money Bail Reform Act was introduced in the form of two identical bills authored by Hertzberg and Bonta. Bonta’s AB 42 was defeated earlier, leaving Hertzberg’s SB 10 as the principal legislation.
“Our arraignment courts — already the busiest courts in the entire judicial system — would become completely clogged with bail hearings.” — Alliance of California Judges
The new law, which takes effect in January, would reduce the pretrial jail population by having the counties follow a procedure called “individualized risk assessment” to determine whether people awaiting trial or sentencing should be released pending their court appearance, or whether they should be required to post a cash payment to make sure they show up.
A number of organizations opposed the bill.
The Alliance of California Judges, a group of more than 500 judges, wrote earlier that SB 10 “would radically alter the current bail system,” cautioning that the bill would heighten a risk to public safety and congest courts despite what the wording says.
“Those arrested for selling drugs, committing identity theft, vandalizing homes and businesses, stealing huge sums of money, or burglarizing dozens of businesses would all presumptively be granted pretrial release — without having to appear before a judge,” the group wrote in a letter to Bonta. “Our arraignment courts — already the busiest courts in the entire judicial system — would become completely clogged with bail hearings.”
The bail bonds industry also opposed the bill.
Ventura-based bail bond company101 Bail Bonds posted on its website in opposition to the bills, “The bail bonds industry has made posting bail affordable for even the lowest-income individuals who find themselves arrested and facing criminal charges, and done so at zero cost to taxpayers in our state and across the country.”
Greg “Topo” Padilla, bail bondsman, president of Golden State Bail Agents Association and board member of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States, also expressed concerns about the bill.
Padilla sat in his I Street office in Sacramento recently, flipping through client folders, explaining the general public believes minorities and lower-income people are targeted for arrest.
“They aren’t arrested as much as you would think,” Padilla said. “And SB 10 is being pushed by groups that have not thought about the unintended consequences,” he added.
Kentucky has eliminated traditional bail and releases about 70 percent of its defendants before trial without money nail. Santa Clara County has a successful pretrial program that has helped more than 95 percent of those released make all scheduled court appearances.
Ed’s Note: Updates with governor signing bill, includes material from our earlier story on no-money bail.