November 4, 2019 By Wallin & Klarich

Sixty percent of people arrested in California never face a criminal charge. According to one study, as many as 48,000 county jail inmates have not been convicted of anything. In many cases, those people are serving time in jail because they could not afford to pay for bail to secure their release. 

A recent change to California’s bail system aims to end that problem by eliminating the favoritism towards those persons who have money to buy their freedom during pretrial court proceedings. Instead, the courts will now evaluate each defendant, regardless of their finances, on the risk, he or she poses to the community, and make a determination as to whether they can be safely released.

However, that change is now on hold, as a new effort by a coalition of bail companies to defeat the law has been successful in getting enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot in the 2020 election. 

How SB10 Is Intended to Work

Passed in 2018, SB10 made many changes to the bail hearing process. Most persons who were accused of nonviolent misdemeanor crimes are to be released automatically within 12 hours. 

For other defendants, the risk of their release will be weighed by using several factors, including: 

  • The severity of the crime for which they are accused, 
  • The likelihood they will flee ahead of their court date, 
  • Whether they pose a risk of repeating the crime or committing other crimes. 
  • Those who are released may have other conditions placed upon them to remain free, such as GPS monitoring or meetings with a probation officer.

Why Is It Controversial?

Ending a system that seeks to even the playing field between the many poor and the few rich seems like something that most would support, but SB10 was not without its critics. The bail industry, victims rights groups, and law enforcement agencies opposed the bill, saying that the proposed change will mean more criminals on the streets, more people failing to show up to court, and that it will cost counties more money to supervise the individuals who are given a bail alternative instead of having to post bail. The bail companies have a vested interest in keeping the system the way it is, as they employ over 3,200 people in this state, and are part of an industry that brings in over $2 Billion per year nationwide.

Toward the end of the legislative process, some groups who had been in favor of it, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) pulled their support because they believed the law gave too much discretion to judges.

However, the bill is in line with a nationwide trend towards adjusting pre-trial release laws. Since 2012, every state has adopted changes to bail systems, and laws similar to the one proposed in California are already in effect in New Jersey, Kentucky, and Washington D.C. Several counties in California, such as Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, and San Francisco, have already changed their prior way of dealing with this important issue.

If the ballot initiative is supported by voters in 2020, the old cash bail system could return, or another, non-cash bail alternative could be proposed in the state’s legislature. This fight is far from over.

Wallin & Klarich Would Like To Hear From you

Do you think SB10 is a step in the right direction that provides the social reform the California corrections system needs? Or do you think the measures proposed in SB10, put our local communities at risk by releasing more alleged criminals onto our streets? Let us know your stance on the SB10 in the comments below!

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