The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors received an hourslong presentation Tuesday on the changes in the county courts’ bail system that will take effect on Sunday at 12:01 a.m.
The presentation was given by retired judge Songhai Armstead, L.A. Superior Court executive officer David Slayton, L.A. County Sheriff Robert Luna, Chief Deputy District Attorney Sharon Woo and Maggie Carter, CEO of the Department of Justice Compliance Office.
The initial presentation outlined exactly what some of these changes are, but presenters were also questioned by board members — who also expressed their concerns.
Supporters of the change argue that it only changes who will be released — under the old system, release was contingent upon who could afford the bail and who could not. Critics of the new system argue that having no bail in some cases will increase crime by implying to criminals that there are no consequences.
Luna said his stance and perspective on the matter was based on the “thousands of people,” from multiple different backgrounds and communities, he’d spoke with while serving as chief of the Long Beach Police Department and sheriff of the LASD.
“When we first heard this, it was alarming to us in law enforcement,” said Luna. “It is a significant change and when I say ‘us in law enforcement,’ as you know, for all of us sitting in this room who represent law enforcement, it represents each community and their concerns and our communities have been not shy about how nervous they are about this change.”
He added that communities he’s talked to are concerned about the lack of consequences for those who commit a crime and specifically for those who are repeat offenders and said that it weakened the public’s confidence in the criminal justice system.
“If your child was poisoned by fentanyl and you found someone was caught selling it in your neighborhood and they’re released a few hours later without bail, you might question if the system is fair or not,” said Luna.
Luna repeated this sentence in the same format but with interchanging examples of crimes, each example ending with the phrase “you might question if the system is fair or not,” and while he did express these critiques of the new system, he was also tasked with handling its inevitability and thanked the courts for having an open dialogue with law enforcement.
The sheriff said that because of this open dialogue, compromises have been reached, including in cases of burglary — which he said, because of law enforcement advocacy, was a crime they were able to upgrade to consideration for magistrate review.
The board’s concerns
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the 5th District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley, mainly shared concerns over questions centered around transparency surrounding the rollout of the new system. She also expressed that many of her constituents are concerned the new system will increase crime.
“The bottom line is — residents don’t feel safe,” said Barger. “One only has to turn on the TV each morning and hear what happened the day before, whether it be a smash-and-grab, whether it be carjacking, whether it be burglary, armed robbery, the list goes on and on. And people want to know how this is going to impact crime on the street.”
Barger asked for clarification on concerns regarding those who commit an offense after being booked and released, to which Slayton reiterated that if someone is cited and released or booked and released, and they commit an offense while on release, law enforcement can request the magistrate to review a release based on the threat to the public.
Barger thanked the presenters for their clarifications and acknowledged that she felt enlightened because she felt there “was some misinformation out there” in regards to the new system. However, she still believed it held “fatal flaws.”
Supervisor Holly Mitchell, 2nd District, wanted to remind the room that “we all have a role to play” in responding to communities. Mitchell said law enforcement, the courts, the DA and elected officials share a common interest in securing community safety, to lower crime and to determine if government systems work or not.
“I think we also have a responsibility to evaluate government systems that represent vast disproportionality, be it race, ethnicity, class, we all share that responsibility as well,” said Mitchell. “And I think there is a reason that, nationwide, elected bodies all over this country have reevaluated the bail system — because the status quo was not working. It did not meet that standard of a system that was meeting the expected goal.”
The changes to the current bail system were targeted toward crimes considered to be “non-violent” or “non-serious.”
The new felony examples included crimes such as bookmaking — the first offense used to call for $10,000 bail but will now be subject to being cited and then released. Second and third offenses used to require $12,500 and $15,000 bail, respectively, but now both are subject to being booked and released.
Other examples included embezzlement or falsification of accounts by a public officer, which used to have a $25,000 bail requirement but is subjected to being booked and released under the new system. The same goes with elder abuse, which used to require $50,000 bail for release but it will now be subject to magistrate review — which considers criminal history, previous failures to appear and appropriate non-financial release terms, if any.
Other crimes that fall under magistrate review include crimes involving firearms, sexual battery, violence against children or seniors and contact with a minor with intent to commit a sexual offense.
In all cases of cite and release or book and release, these new terms only apply up to the point of arraignment, where they can be changed based on recommendations from law enforcement.
Law enforcement would also still have the right to recommend a magistrate review for any cite-and-release or book-and-release case.
Capital offenses or certain felonies are still not eligible for release and crimes considered to be violent or serious will still have a money-based bail.
Almost all arson and arson-related crimes retain their bail value under this new system.
The justification for this new system was laid out by Slayton, who also answered the questions and concerns presented by the board later in the meeting. Supporting data stated that between 71% and 78% of persons with criminal cases are currently released pretrial in L.A. County.
The proportion of the released population arrested for a new offense while awaiting trial was
40% in 2020, 36% in 2021, and 29% in 2022 — with a 5.8% decrease in rearrest/rebooking for misdemeanors and a 2.4% decrease in rearrest/rebooking for felonies.
“Zero bail does not increase failure to appear or rearrest rates,” read the presentation. “Rates of failure to appear (FTA) in court and of rearrest or new offenses remained either below or similar to their historical average.”