A bill to end California’s cash bail system sits on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, and both opponents and supporters in the central San Joaquin Valley agree on one thing: His signature will send massive changes through the state’s criminal justice system — a legal big rig hurtling down the criminal justice Grapevine.
UPDATE: Brown signed the bill on Tuesday, Aug. 28.
Senate Bill 10 replaces bail with a risk assessment system for those arrested based on their threat to the community and the likelihood that they will return for trial. It would shutter the bail bond business, while at the same time creating risk assessment service procedures that make rapid determinations on whether those arrested stay in jail or walk. The measure would require changes to be in place by Oct. 1, 2019 — a big change in not much time.
The American Civil Liberties Union, an early advocate for an end to cash bail, now opposes SB 10, saying the measure doesn’t “promise a system with a substantial reduction in pretrial detention.”
That puts the advocacy group in a temporary alliance with Fresno bail bondsman Albert Ramirez, who said Brown’s signature means he and 3,500 other similar businesses will be “out of business in California” by October 2019.
On the other side are defense attorneys like Fresno’s Mark Coleman. He said an end to bail will level the playing field for defendants, who often feel pressure to plead guilty so they can return to their jobs and families.
Whether Brown decides to sign SB 10 is a matter of high interest for Kirk Haynes, chief probation officer for Fresno County, and Sheriff Margaret Mims, both of who could be making changes to how they run their offices.
Haynes anticipates passage would probably double the caseload for officers involved in the probation office’s present pretrial program. Mims, who supports the bail system, sees unintended consequences to a no-ball system, and is skeptical that enough personnel can be in place by the deadline.
Coleman, the defense attorney, said it is “a lot easier for us to prepare a defense if the defendant is out of custody.” For an example, he cited someone charged with domestic violence, where bail is often $25,000 to $30,000. That means if they are low income, they are likely to remain behind bars until a preliminary hearing. Coleman called that “leverage over poor people,” an unfair advantage for the prosecution. A no-bail system is the way it works in the federal court system, he added.
Ramirez, the bail bondsman, said there is no evidence that “risk assessment” systems work and that taxpayer costs will go up, as he said has happened in New Jersey, which adopted no bail recently.
“They already exceeded their budget allocation, and want more money.”
Under SB 10, a person arrested for most misdemeanors would be booked and released if they were determined to be a “low risk” by pretrial assessment services, which assign a “risk score” to the defendant. Those who are arrested for crimes such as domestic violence, violating a restraining order or dissuading a witness, are higher risk and would not be released under an assessment.
The decision to release or not would require a quick turnaround. Probation chief Haynes said he’d anticipate having more staff at the jail monitoring arrests, 24 hours a day and on weekends.