Los Angeles Times

America’s bail system undermines fundamental fairness and justice. It’s time for a change.


August 27, 2016

Consider two people arrested within hours of each other by police who say the suspects look just like a couple of prowlers who were seen recently creeping around homes that suffered break-ins. Both men are taken to the station, both are booked for first-degree burglary and both are held in jail until being brought before a judge.

The judge sets a trial date and consults the official bail schedule — a kind of rate sheet that lays out how much money suspects must post, depending on the alleged crime and a range of other factors — and sets bail for each at $50,000.

One suspect pulls together enough assets to hire an insurance company — a bail bonds firm — to put up the money, persuading the court that he will show up for trial rather than run away and forfeit his bond. He is released, and over the course of the following weeks, he returns to work, collects paychecks and spends much of his free time with his lawyer, preparing a defense to the charges against him. He rounds up witnesses who can vouch for his whereabouts on the nights of the break-ins.

But the other suspect has no assets to post with the court, or to hire a bondsman to post bail for him. He is locked up in county jail to wait for trial. Because he can’t report to work, he loses his job. His lawyer does her best, but he can’t help her prepare his defense or track down his alibi witnesses.


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