LA County courts announce changes to bail system 

The entrance to the Los Angeles County Superior Court courthouse in Valencia.
The entrance to the Los Angeles County Superior Court courthouse in Valencia.

The nation’s largest trial court system announced this week another more permanent move toward reducing its reliance on a cash-bail system. 

Presiding Judge Samantha Jessner announced the new bail system would take effect Oct. 1 to allow local law enforcement agencies time to adjust their policies accordingly. 

The new protocols were announced one day after the Emergency Bail Schedule, or EBS, was reimplemented as the result of a preliminary injunction ordered by Judge Lawrence Riff. 

On May 17, Riff reinstituted the COVID-19-based EBS in response to a lawsuit filed by a handful of defendants against law enforcement agencies, claiming they served time in jail, two to five days in most cases, because they didn’t have the means and access to avoid pretrial detention. It was given a 60-day abeyance under the same reasoning, which means it started Monday. 

Riff wrote in his ruling that a money bail schedule that doesn’t take into account one’s ability to pay inherently puts the wealthy at an unfair advantage. The EBS essentially eliminated cash-bail requirements for felonies with bail amounts listed at $50,000 or less. 

A statement issued by the courts this week regarding the emergency bail schedules, which are expected to be in effect until Aug. 17, notes they “were never intended to be permanent,” citing a similar problem that the cash-bail system had. 

“While they reduce reliance on money bail, they fail to consider each arrestee’s risk to public and victim safety and the defendant’s likelihood of returning to court,” according to the L.A. County Superior Court release. 

The same sheet also noted that under the EBS, “rates of failure to appear in court and of rearrest or new offenses remained either below or similar to their historical average,” lending support to opponents of cash bail as a means of securing a suspect’s appearance in court. 

“The new protocols within the newly adopted bail schedules consider an arrestee’s risk to public and victim safety and likelihood of returning to court and base the decision to release eligible arrestees on individual risk rather than on purely financial terms,” according to the release. 

For misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, starting Oct. 1, the bail schedule lists one of three actions: cite and release; book and release; and magistrate review.  

The fact sheet issued by the courts cites the example of murder and several other violent felonies, such as voluntary manslaughter, mayhem, rape or other assaults that result in serious injury as ineligible for pre-arraignment release. 

Those subject to magistrate review, meaning a judge could review the case and decide if bail is appropriate based on any concern over public safety, include possession of a loaded firearm, sexual battery, violence against children or elders and child sex crimes. Anyone arrested for a felony while on parole or post-release community supervision is also subject to such review. 

Offenses that would be eligible for cite and release, or book and release, include most theft offenses, vehicle code violations and property crimes. 

The sheet reiterated that serious or violent felonies, including domestic violence, are not eligible for nonfinancial terms of release prior to an arraignment, pursuant to state law. 

With the newly announced schedule to take effect Oct. 1 and the court injunction regarding the emergency bail schedule expiring Aug. 17, it’s unclear what the status of the court’s bail system will be for the interim. However, a further ruling by Riff could change policy during that period. 

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