Six out of ten. That is the number of people who are arrested and held on suspicion of committing a crime in California who never face criminal charges. This is because those wrongly accused of crimes can spend months and even years in custody while their case works it way through the criminal justice system. Despite ultimately being exonerated, there is still a significant cost paid by many of these people.
In an attempt to eliminate this inequity in our justice system, California lawmakers have introduced legislation that would drastically change the bail system in the state.
Does Bail Punish Poor People?
The bail system allows defendants to pay a certain amount of money to the court as a guarantee that they will show up their court hearings. In most cases, a person charged with a crime will seek the help of a bail bond company that will post the full amount of bail in exchange for a non-refundable fee (generally equal to 10% of the bail amount set by the court).
This means if bail is set at $50,000, the defendant can pay a bail bondsman $5,000 to be released from custody while the case is pending. If the charges are dropped or if the defendant is found not guilty at trial, the bondsman receives the $50,000 back from the court, but keeps the $5,000 the defendant paid him or her.
The current bail system punishes people who are not able to afford bail. That is why California lawmakers want to change how the courts calculate bail fees.
Income-Based Bail Amounts
Currently, the average bail in California is $50,000, and bail fees are based on the crime allegedly committed rather than the defendant’s ability to pay. A new bill working its way through the California legislature would eliminate bail in some cases and change the way it is calculated in others.
Under this proposed law, in cases where the person’s crime is one that is not serious or violent, home detention or monitoring devices could be used in place of monetary bail. In cases involving serious or violent crimes where bail fees would be required, the courts would be directed to use the defendant’s income as the basis for the amount of bail required.
Will the Bill Become Law?
The bill is not without its critics. The bail industry, victims rights groups and law enforcement agencies oppose the bill, saying that the proposed change will lead to more people failing to show up to court, and that it will cost counties more money to supervise individuals who are given a bail alternative. Continue reading →