California has already enacted initiatives reducing serious crimes to misdemeanors and allowing thousands of dangerous felons the opportunity to be freed years early from prison. Now California's legislative leaders want to make it easier for accused criminals to not be jailed upon arrest. Their proposals are unnecessary, dangerous and potentially costly.
In an effort that fits the above description, Sen. Bob Hertzberg and Assemblyman Rob Bonta
that would eliminate set bail schedules. Their argument is that set schedules discriminate against the poor, who are less able than wealthier people to pay their bail. They also claim that taxpayer dollars are being wasted keeping these accused in jail.
As detailed in a piece by Deputy District Attorney Michele Hanisee "
Does the current bail system penalize the poor?
issue is the bail schedules
which a defendant must meet to be released after booking and before arraignment. These bail schedules are set by judges in each county for every criminal offense. At arraignment, a judge can keep the bail as set, change the bail amount, or release the accused on a promise to appear.
The rationales for eliminating bail schedules may seem to make sense at first blush, but they shrivel under the heat of a more thorough examination. First of all, it's critical to remember that bail has a specific purpose; to provide a meaningful incentive for accused criminals to show up for their court proceedings. Bail must be set high enough that failure to appear will result in a significant financial burden.
Furthermore, the current system is fair. Under California law, people who are unable to make bail must generally be brought before a court within 48 hours. Bails are adjusted to reflect the individual circumstances of each defendant. In addition, the arrestee can request an additional hearing to provide evidence to challenge a judge's bail determination.
But what's really troubling, are the practical consequences of scrapping set bail schedules. In 2014, state voters passed Proposition 47, which reduced a host of serious felonies to misdemeanors. One of the many negative consequences of this initiative was that the number of misdemeanor defendants who failed to appear in court soared. Why? Because there was no penalty for skipping out.
Deputy District Attorney Marc Debbaudt said it well, "
The Assault on Safety Continues: Eliminating Bail is the Latest Target,
and we know that changing the bail structure would almost certainly impose additional strains on the state budget rather than provide fiscal relief. Without set bail schedules, people arrested for felony crimes couldn't just be booked into jail; they would first have to be brought before a judge or commissioner. Because people are arrested at all hours, courtrooms would have to be open 24 hours a day, staffed by judicial officers, deputy district attorneys, defense attorneys, bailiffs and other court personnel all paid for by taxpayers. In addition, the arresting deputy would have to be present to give a probable cause declaration. This would peel officers off patrol - a consequence that staffing-crunched departments like the LASD could ill afford.
We are willing to assume that the bail-reform proponents are well intentioned. But their proposals are misguided and ill conceived.
ALADS will closely monitor these bills, alert our membership about important developments, and actively fight any proposals that will jeopardize safety.