California Gov. Jerry Brown signed on Tuesday, Aug. 28, sweeping legislation, in the works for several years, to eliminate cash bail in the state. Set to take effect in a little over a year, October 2019, Senate Bill 10, which passed with a California Senate vote of 26-12 on Aug. 21 bred unusual bedfellows in opposition.
Local law enforcement and private bail bondsmen lined up on the same side as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) with different rational to defend the status quo.
In a statement, however, Brown backed the bill as passed,“Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly.”
“The California Money Bail Reform Act,” will replace bail with “risk assessments” of individuals and non-monetary conditions of release.
Under the current cash bail system in California the accused have a monetary value placed on their freedom ahead of a trial. Counties in the state are now looking at algorithm driven, “pretrial risk assessment tool[s].”
While the ACLU originally backed the proposal, introduced in 2016 by a list of Senators and Assemblymen including the Central Coast’s own Senator Bill Monning, the ACLU’s Natasha Minsker has since issued a statement reading in part that, “Any model must include data collection that allows independent analysis to identify racial bias in the system, supports the use of independent pretrial service agencies recognized as the best practice in pretrial justice, and ensures stronger due process protections for all Californians, no matter where they live.”
While judges would still be involved in determining who is eligible for release, the mechanism would not be as automatic as the regional bail schedules set for the accused based on the alleged offence, and critics say, will result in significant backup and delays in custody no matter what system each county adopts to replace it.
San Luis Obispo County Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth admitted the flaws of the current system in an interview on Aug. 27 while noting that the office had not taken an official stand on the legislation.
“Equal protection under cash bail has always been the main issue,” he said, adding that the regional consortium of judges convening to set the bail schedule has been the mechanism relied on to moderate the undue burden faced by poor defendants.
“Obviously we’ll build in mechanisms to follow the law,” he said. “I don’t want to go into specific cases but we’ll handle in direct argument any cases we deem to be a risk.”
In Atascadero, Police Chief Jerel Haley said he’d been kept as up to date as possible with information from the California Police Chiefs Association.
“We’re not thrilled about it,” he said. “It is concerning that there are dangerous individuals who may not be held.”
Haley added that it seemed to be in the vein of other propositions submitted to the ballot that he felt run counter to good public safety policy.
“Judges in this County do a good job of determining [release on own recognizance] verses a hefty cash bail right now,” he said. “The systems not perfect but money isn’t really the difference in if you’re released or not.”
David Wetzel, a private bail bondsman covering San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties gave out some numbers and explained some of the advantages to the state in the current system.
“Right now the failure to appear rate [for bonds he’s underwritten] is 1 percent,” he said. “In New Jersey when they eliminated bail those numbers went up to 20 and 30 percent. There is no incentive for someone to show if they can get out without.”
What’s more, however one feels about the system, it is currently a revenue stream, “When I write a bail a percentage goes to the County and to the State.”
In addition, he said, bondsmen are filling a function of the court which would need to be covered by increased jail staffing and court officers in determining release.
There is some financial means testing required under the current system to make sure a defendant can pay the bondman, Wetzel noted, typically 10 percent of the staked amount, but usual turnaround for getting someone arrested back to their families and in a position to plan a defense to the charges against them is two to four hours. An administrative points-based review he said, would mean hold times of 12 to 24 hours.
While Wetzel feels it’s bad policy overall, at 68 years old, he said he personally plans to retire soon from the high-stress business.
Dan Tuggle, an agent with local ABC Bonding, said he was personally distressed to have the livelihoods of an entire profession being legislated away, noting that it went against his notions of fair play and hard work.
“I’m really hoping Gov. Brown will veto this,” he said the day before Brown signed the bill. “You have hundreds of individual public safety, human rights organizations and law enforcement organizations on the same side. And our jails are already full. You’re going to be denying people the ability to bail out that have a right to and people who do may not show. It doesn’t make sense.”
While the bill was long fought by the bail industry, it was what some saw as last-minute changes in wording before final passage which led to opposition from it’s original supporters. Specifically the mechanisms by which the system would be given broader discretion to hold people turned away the ACLU, a joint message from their Northern and Southern California leadership after the signing ceremony read in part, “The implementation of this bill — and subsequent legislation in this area — must ensure a significant reduction in incarceration and also provide due process and promote racial justice.”