California’s governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on Tuesday which will eliminate bail for suspects awaiting trial – making it the first state to enact such a law.
The California Money Bail Reform Act will replace bail with a risk-assessment system, which will determine a defendant’s risk to public safety and probability of that suspect missing a court date rather than their ability to pay bail.
Brown said in a statement that the bill ‘preserves the rights of the accused, while prioritizing public safety’.
‘Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly,’ Brown said.
California governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on Tuesday eliminating bail before trial. The governor is pictured center as he signs the California Money Bail Reform Act
The bill will determine a defendant’s risk to public safety and probability of that suspect missing a court date rather than their ability to pay bail. Pictured are inmates outside at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin in August 2016
Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye called the bill signing a ‘transformative day in our jusice system’.
‘Our old system of money bail was outdated, unsafe, and unfair. It took a three-branch solution with Governor Brown, the Legislature led by Senator Hertzberg and Assemblymember Bonta, and the Judicial Council’s Administrative Director Martin Hoshino working with judges in my Pretrial Detention Reform Work Group to bring about a fair and just solution for all Californians,’ Cantil-Sakauye said.
Brown’s signature gives the state’s Judicial Council broad authority to reshape pretrial detention policies.
Each county will use the council’s framework as a basis to set its own procedures for deciding whom to release before trial, potentially creating a patchwork system based on where a suspect lives.
Most suspects arrested for nonviolent misdemeanors will be released within 12 hours of being booked under the new law. Those facing serious, violent felonies will not be eligible for pretrial release.
The legislation gives officials 24 hours to determine whether other suspects should be released before trial. That time can be extended by 12 hours if necessary.
Some criminal justice reform advocates worry defendants will spend weeks in jail while their lawyers try to prove they deserve to be set free.
Brown said the bill ‘reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly’
Opponents of the legislation say it gives judges too much power. Some worry dangerous people will go free and won’t return for trial.
Supporters, including the Judicial Council headed by the state Supreme Court’s chief justice, say the change will end the unfair practice of imprisoning people simply because they are poor. Incarceration should instead depend on the risk a defendant poses if they are released, they argue.
‘Wealth is not the measure of any woman or man. By eliminating cash bail, we are saying that those with the least ability to pay should not be released or incarcerated solely on the basis of their wealth or poverty. SB 10 is only one leg of the long journey toward perfecting our justice system, but it is an important one,’ said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.
Other states such as New Jersey and New Mexico have overhauled their bail systems, although neither state has completely eliminated bail.
The Judicial Council is the policy-making body for California’s courts. It creates rules and procedures to ensure consistency across the state.
The California bill will take effect on October 1, 2019.