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California lawmakers unveil proposal to end money bail

August 16, 2018

By Sophia Bollag

California would be the first state to completely end money bail for defendants awaiting trial under a proposal unveiled Thursday that would create a new system to instead jail people based on their risk level.

Under the proposal, most suspects accused of nonviolent misdemeanors would be released within 12 hours of being booked in jail. People accused of serious, violent felonies would not be eligible for pretrial release.

The proposal would give courts and the state’s Judicial Council wide latitude to decide whether to release other suspects before trial based on the likelihood they’ll return to court and the danger they pose to public safety.

To be released from jail before trial in the current system, many defendants must provide money or property that can be forfeited if they fail to appear in court. The new proposal would end that system in October 2019.

The bail industry has argued that eliminating cash bail would take away an essential tool in ensuring defendants show up in court.

“We have baked into our law a system that punishes people, that takes away their liberty, that treats them differently just because they have less money in their pocket,” said state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, a Van Nuys Democrat who authored the bill.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, a Democrat from Alameda, co-authored the bill and said he anticipates the changes would result in fewer people being held in jail before trial.

The American Civil Liberties Union of California supports the idea of eliminating bail but wants the bill to include study of the changes to identify racial bias in the system and include stronger protections to ensure due process, said Natasha Minsker, director of the ACLU’s California Center for Advocacy and Policy.

The amended bill, SB10, passed out of a legislative committee and now heads to the Assembly floor. It needs approval from both houses of the Legislature and a signature from the governor to become law

Under the proposal, suspects would be categorized as having “high,” ‘’medium” or “low” risk of failing to appear in court, endangering public safety or committing a new crime. The determination would be based on the charges against the defendant, their criminal record, missed court appearances in the past three years, and other factors.

Additionally, district attorneys would be required to reach out to victims to ask whether the person should be detained, which would also be considered.

New Jersey overhauled its pretrial release system in 2017 to dramatically reduce the use of cash bail, although it didn’t ban bail outright.

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