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Cash Bail Cancelled in California

Bail can mean different things to different people. Its standard definition states that it is the amount of money a person accused of crime pays to a court of law in order to be released from behind bars until the time of trial. But in essence, it is an easy way out for some and a source of trauma for those who cannot afford to pay it.

The current system of cash bail unnecessarily detains many defendants behind bars while they await trial simply because they cannot afford the bail. Justice cannot be delivered efficiently if some have advantages that others do not.

In order to eradicate this unequal treatment from the process of justice, the state of California has made a move to eliminate cash bail.

The recently passed Senate Bill 10, or the California Money Bail Reform Act signed by gov. Edmund Brown, eliminates cash bail in favor of nonmonetary bail conditions.

In his words, “Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly.”

The Bill will be in effect from 1st October 2019.

So what prompted the SB-10?

As per the current system, several low-risk individuals charged with misdemeanour spend a long time in detention simply because they cannot afford to pay their way out with bail. So much so, that nearly two thirds of the inmates are those awaiting trial because they are not able to pay the bail amount. It is also a drain on resources for California to house all these individuals till the time of their trial or arraignment even when the crime is relatively small.

The current system of cash bail has been replaced with something known as Pretrial Risk Assessment.

Pretrial Services programs are procedures that assess risk, recommend non monetary conditions of release and supervise defendants released from custody.

A Pretrial Assessment Services agency, to be established locally, report their assessments to the court, along with a recommendation for non monetary conditions of release

Defendants fall into three groups:

1. Low risk defendants are the ones with the least number of restrictive conditions set on their release.

2. Medium Risk defendants are reviewed and supervised by the local county courts.

3. All high risk defendants are held in custody until trial or arraignment.

Under SB-10, those detained for misdemeanours won’t face risk assessment but will be booked and released unless there are other circumstances like possibility of a threat to public safety or the chance that the defendant may not appear in court for trial. The court must state reasons for detention. No financial conditions may be imposed at all.

If a defendant is recommended for custody, the law states that a preventive detention hearing must be held, allowing the defendant a chance to present their case with a self chosen or court appointed lawyer. The court will then determine if the defendant should be released or detained.

Without sufficient basis for detaining the defendant, the individual must be released with strictly non monetary conditions while ensuring public safety.

Of course, the system of SB-10 is not without its flaws. There is a provision that allows a judge to impose preventive detention at the last moment. Many are concerned that this provision places too much power in the hands of the judges.

While this provision has created a buzz, SB-10 is expected to radically change the justice system for the better, placing defendants on an equal footing.


Defensetax, Popelaw, Simon hopes007