Board votes to expedite changes to bail, pretrial justice system

This Signal file photo shows Pitchess Detention Center.
This Signal file photo shows Pitchess Detention Center.

In response to a recent California Supreme Court decision regarding the state’s cash bail system being found unconstitutional, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a motion Tuesday that would expedite reforms to the bail and pretrial justice systems.  

The motion follows a report provided to the board July 6 — and curated by the offices of the L.A. County public defender, alternate defender and district attorney — which gave 14 recommendations on how the county could respond to a recent court decision titled “In re Kenneth Humphrey.” 

The Humphrey ruling, according to the report filed before the board, “sharply curtails the use of cash bail and limits the use of bail schedules,” and establishes that a person must be released from custody without conditions unless evidence shows they’re a flight risk or a threat to public safety.  

If they are either a flight risk or threat to public safety, then non-monetary conditions must be put into place before the person is released; if the non-monetary conditions are not sufficient, then money bail must be set in an amount the person can afford.  

The only time money bail can be set at a price a person cannot afford is when it is the only means of addressing flight/safety risks, and the court must still comply with statutory and constitutional requirements, according to the report. 

The justification for the ruling, the county report reads, is that the money-focused bail system — a system that allows for the release of an accused individual who has not yet been convicted if they pay a certain amount of money to the court based on their charge — allows for wealthier defendants to be released more regularly than relatively poorer defendants.  

“Under this process, poverty serves as a proxy for safety and flight risk, with wealthy defendants routinely released while less-affluent defendants are routinely detained without meaningful consideration of less-restrictive alternatives,” the report reads.  

The report goes on to say that the “presumption of innocence” loses much of its meaning, because defendants are asked to wait weeks, months and even years because of their income level and having been accused of committing a crime.  

In a statement released Tuesday, L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl announced the board had unanimously approved the top county lawyers’ report and its 14 recommendations to bring the county in line with the Humphrey decision. Kuehl said the recommendations included creating a new pretrial services division that will connect people with services and trial dates, fund said services and that the services are to be tracked through comprehensive data collection. 

“The Humphrey decision by the California Supreme Court should be examined from a lens of ensuring due process, and today’s board motion represents one of the steps that the county is taking to examine the recommendations in the published Humphrey report in a way that ensures due process and accountability,” said Christina Mesesan, Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s justice deputy. 

L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón did not respond to a request for comment as of the publication of this article.  

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