With End of Money Bail System, California Courts Must Determine Whether to Detain or Release a Defendant
The bail system has long been controversial. The original idea seemed positive and generally neutral: Allow criminal defendants to be released pending trial, rather than locking them up simply for being accused of a crime, but require them to leave a deposit behind to ensure that they actually return for trial. Opponents of the system in recent years have argued that, in reality, it keeps poor people locked up while allowing freedom for those with money. In response to the criticisms, California recently became the first state to abolish the cash bail system entirely. Read on for more about the effect of the new approach on release pending trial, and contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney with any questions. With the end of the money bail system, California courts now can determine whether or not to detain or release a defendant.
Court Requirement to Assess Risk for Criminal Detainment
Under pre-existing law, after a defendant was arrested, California criminal courts would assess the case based on the nature and circumstances of the offense, as well as of the alleged offender, and determine whether to detain the defendant, release the defendant on their own recognizance, or set a bail amount based on various factors. Often, those without means would either end up in jail pending trial or would have to resort to borrowing from a bail bondsman and would end up in debt regardless of whether they were ultimately found guilty.
The California Money Bail Reform Act, now in effect, eliminates cash bail as an option, tasking courts with determining whether to release defendants or keep them detained. Under the new system, either a court or a contracted local public agency will determine the level of risk a defendant poses. The entity will determine the likelihood that a defendant will either fail to appear in court or commit a new crime if released, and will set conditions for release. Defendants will be categorized as high, medium, or low risk. High risk individuals, such as those accused of violent felonies, are likely to be detained pending trial, while low risk individuals will be released, often with conditions such as supervision by a local officer. The bill requires courts to impose the “least restrictive nonmonetary conditions of pretrial release to reasonably assure public safety and the appearance of the defendant.”
Potential for Racial Bias in Detainment
While the new law is a step in the right direction, some civil rights advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union claim that the law does not go far enough in eliminating inequalities based on race and class. They argue there will still be a large number of Californians detained based only on allegations of wrongdoing, and that the law does not sufficiently address racial bias in pretrial decision making.