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California Chief Justice Wants to Reform to How State Holds People in Bail

May 23 2016, by Jessica McElfresh in Criminal Defense, Legal Blog

Our San Diego criminal defense attorneys are always on the lookout for new developments in the criminal justice system. Here at McElfresh Law Inc., we have long been concerned about the detrimental effects that the bail system has had on criminal justice. Specifically, “money-for-bail” has resulted in the number of pretrial detainees more than doubling in the last twenty years. Meanwhile, the supposed positive effects of this cash for bail system – namely public safety and the ensured appearances of defendants in court – has little to show for it.

On average, about half a million people await trial behind bars for the sole reason that they cannot afford to post bond. The overcrowding of our jails has an effect on everyone, including the California taxpayer, who is typically the one left shouldering the cost building new jailhouses.

Yet there may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon. A potentially positive development in the California bail system could have meaningful impact for people detained in California jails.

California’s Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye recently appointed the administrative director of California courts to a national task force in order to study bail, fines, and fees. The task force is made up of leaders in the judicial system and well-known advocates for policy and social reform from a myriad of communities – state, county, municipal governments, as well as community groups, public interest institutes, and academia.

The task force will officially be led by the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators, and will be officially empowered with:

  • Drafting model laws, court rules, policies and procedures for court-imposed payment systems;
  • Suggesting “best practices” for the collection of bail/bond;
  • Continuing to review suggestions for oversight of the judiciary, including updating state codes of judicial conduct;
  • Developing an online “clearinghouse” of information providing resources and best practices for those seeking resources.

The Current System Discriminates Against the Poor

Over the years, a disturbing trend has emerged where wealthy detainees and poor detainees are treated differently as a result of California bail system. Consider how wealthy criminal defendants are able to sell expensive assets — such as jewelry, cars, even their homes – or simply write a check to avoid jail time until their case is heard. A person without those financial resources will be forced to either stay in jail and await trial or pay exorbitant fees to a bondsman. This is not justice.

Things in California have gotten so bad that a class action lawsuit was filed in 2015 on behalf of a number of jail inmates arguing that the state’s system was unconstitutional.

The class action lawsuit was dismissed in federal court, mostly on procedural grounds. The plaintiffs have since re-filed the case. Regardless of the outcome of this particular lawsuit, however, the impact has already been felt throughout the state.

For one, California’s Chief Justice now openly agrees that the current process is broken and ineffective. She’s perhaps the most prominent advocate for change.

More research has been done on the issue to, which has also helped to support their arguments in favor of the reform. Studies show, for example, that keeping people in jail while they await trial actually makes them more likely to commit crime in the future. Research also indicates that supervised release is likely just as effective as bail programs.

Not only is the price of locking these pretrial detainees costly to the taxpayer, but lost time in jail can result in lost jobs, missed payments to families, and a host of other missed opportunities for defendants – many of whom are completely innocent of their charges. When out of bail, these people are allowed to resume working, to see and provide for their loved ones, and have all the more incentive to appear for their day in court.

Such reform would represent a “sea change,” Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye says. As California’s member of the task force, she has appointed Martin Hoshino, currently the chief administrative director of the California courts, indicating how seriously the Chief Justice takes bail reform.

Throughout the United States, about 60 percent of inmates are in jail – yet not even serving time for a conviction, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Seventy-five percent of these inmates are awaiting trial for non-violent crimes. Where California goes, so goes the nation. The attorneys at McElfresh Law hopes that this is in the direction of pretrial bail reform.

How San Diego Criminal Defense Attorneys from McElfresh Law Can Help You

As always, if you have any questions or would like a free consultation with a California criminal lawyer, call us at (858) 756-7107 for your free legal consultation with one of our San Diego criminal defense attorneys.