Photo: Paul Sakuma, Associated Press
California’s chief justice says the practice of holding people on bail after their arrest may be both unfair to the poor and ineffective at preventing crime, and the state’s courts are working on alternatives.
“We need more pretrial release programs to balance safety against the need to post bail,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said Tuesday in her annual State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature. “We must not penalize the poor for being poor.”
She said the court system, with funds that lawmakers approved in 2014, has set up programs in 12 local courts to free people after arrest, and place them under supervision, rather than holding them until they can post bail. The release programs do not apply to those arrested for crimes such as murder and to others who are shown to be dangerous to the public.
Recent studies have shown that in some cases, keeping people in jail while awaiting trial may make them more likely to commit crimes in the future, and “a supervised release may be as effective as bail,” Cantil-Sakauye said.
Most of the nation’s state courts require suspects to post bail after arrest, often through a bond company that charges a 10 percent fee. Bond companies and many law enforcement groups say the system gives defendants an incentive to show up in court, but advocates for the poor contend other methods are just as effective and argue that low-income defendants should not be held in jail while wealthier people charged with the same crimes go free.
A lawsuit challenging the cash bail system in San Francisco was dismissed Feb. 1 by U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who said Superior Court judges who make the ultimate decisions on bail are constitutionally shielded from suits because they are state officials. The plaintiffs have since filed a narrower version of their lawsuit challenging the system at an earlier stage, immediately after arrest, when the sheriff’s office sets bail until a suspect appears in court.
Cantil-Sakauye said she has appointed Martin Hoshino, the administrative director of the California courts, to a national task force studying bail as well as the fees and fines on which courts are increasingly relying to fill gaps in their budgets.
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