A new ruling from the California Supreme Court has said that judges within the state must consider a person’s ability to post bail and the authorities may not detain a person merely because he or she can’t afford bail.
The high court’s ruling permits a California judge to set bail when the person is either considered a danger to the community, and/or no alternatives, such as electronic monitoring, house arrest or drug treatment programs, can be found.
Limitations to cash bail within Los Angeles County have been in place for months due to both special directives from District Attorney George Gascón and COVID-19 leniency protocols for most nonviolent offenders.
The pandemic policies and Gascón directives have met significant resistance and courtroom challenges since being implemented in L.A. County, but the decision from California’s highest court Thursday solidifies the change to the cash bail system on a statewide level.
“Today’s California Supreme Court ruling ends an unjust practice that favors the wealthy and punishes those with limited means,” Gascón said. “We cannot have equal protection under the law when fundamental aspects of our criminal justice system hinge so decisively on financial status.”
Opponents said Thursday that while some changes were needed in the cash bail system, many of the recent policies created by Gascón and others within the state have harmed both the general public and the victims of crimes seeking justice or protection from the alleged offender.
“From a community safety perspective, I find (the changes) problematic because there’s no repercussions for their actions,” said Jeff Chavez, a bail agent at All American Bail Bonds, in Santa Clarita. “If they get arrested, they’ll go back to jail, only to be rereleased.”
Chavez said he did believe that it was unfair to place astronomically high bail amounts on certain people even though they committed a petty crime or the judge was having a bad day. But he said he was unsure of how the state would fund the electronic monitoring programs, or control a possible hike in crime if suspects are immediately released and given the opportunity to reoffend.
However, local proponents of recent changes to the legal system highlighted that the state Supreme Court’s decision does not entirely eliminate the cash bail system.
“Of course, people that have serious hard-core violent crimes and felonies, there’s still going to be bail; bail is not going away,” said David Diamond, a defense attorney and partner at Diamond Associates. “What this does is it just makes the system a little bit more fair for the average Joe.”
Diamond said that, in recent years, the argument that bail is used to keep dangerous people away from society is historically inaccurate, but it was created in order to ensure people showed up for court dates.
“For the everyday person, this means that bail can no longer be used as an abusive tactic by the prosecutor to force somebody to take a plea in the case,” said Diamond. “People, usually that are incarcerated for low-level crimes and want to get back to their jobs and their families, oftentimes accept a plea for something that they may not be responsible for just so they can get back home.
“So, this levels the playing field for your everyday citizen.”