Sacramento, CA – A bill that would end the cash-bail system in California passed the state assembly on Monday despite opposition from both sides of the political aisle.
Senate Bill 10 (SB10) was authored by State Senator Bob Hertzberg from Van Nuys and was designed to change the system whereby defendants needed money to be released pending trial, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Supporters of the legislation complained that the current bail system was disproportionately unfair to low-income people awaiting trial.
“Thousands of sex offenders, rapists, murderers are let out because they simply have money, somehow we are safer by keeping that system?” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a Democrat from San Diego, asked.
However, the very same groups who were the earliest supporters of SB10 changed their position at the last minute on Monday because they didn’t like some changes that had been made to the bill in committee.
“As much as we condemn the commercial for-profit system of bail, we cannot stand and let SB10 become the law of California,” Abdi Soltani, executive director of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Northern California told the San Francisco Chronicle.
They complained the amendments added to the bill gave the courts too much power in deciding who should, and who should not, be released pending trial.
Under the proposed new law, California would no longer require defendants to post bail to get out of jail ahead of their trials.
However, revisions made to SB10 on Aug. 16 asked local courts to create their own evaluation system for determining who it’s safe to release, and who needs to stay locked up, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. And special conditions for release, such as ankle monitors, would have to be nonmonetary under the new legislation.
The new law would also mandate that people charged with non-violent misdemeanors be released within 12 hours of their bookings, with the exception of defendants with recent serious or violent felony convictions, a history of failing to appear in court, or domestic violence allegations.
SB10 would grant local courts the authority to determine which defendants were at low, moderate or high risk of re-offending or fleeing, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Without the system opposed by the ACLU, high-risk violent offenders would be released after their arrest.
The California Public Defenders Association and San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s office pulled their support from SB10 after they read the latest amendments.
“It gives tremendous discretion to judges to decide who to detain, and experience shows that this discretion is likely to be used in a way that over-predicts dangerousness and in a racially discriminatory manner,” University of California Berkeley School of Law Professor Erwin Chemerinsky said. “Eliminating money bail is essential, but this is the wrong way to do it.”
The California Bail Agents Association has been fighting aggressively against the legislation that would end their industry in California. But one legislator pointed out that removing bail bondsmen from the picture meant fewer resources to capture and return criminals to the justice system.
“Getting rid of our current bail system will only make California less safe,” said Assemblyman Travis Allen, who represents Huntington Beach. “By eliminating bail, criminals will stop showing up for trial. By stripping bail bondsmen of their power to bring criminals to justice, more criminals will roam free.”
An organization that represented women with incarcerated loved ones was one of the first to support SB10 when it was proposed, but as of Aug. 20, they had joined the side fighting to kill the bill, too.
“People are telling us you don’t know how big of a deal it is to end the bail industry,” Gina Clayton-Johnson, of the Essie Justice Group, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Let me tell you who knows how big of a deal it is to end the bail industry: It’s women with incarcerated loved ones who are going into debt, putting up homes for collateral, who have been trying to bail out our loved ones for years, who have been exploited by this industry. We know what it means to end the bail industry. So you take it from us when we say this is a bad deal.”
Now the bill has been returned to the state senate, where lawmakers have two weeks to determine whether they want to send it to California Governor Jerry Brown for his signature, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.