California’s Broken Bail System is Finally Reformed but It’s Not All Good News


California’s Broken Bail System is Finally Reformed but It’s Not All Good News

November 28, 2018

California’s Broken Bail System is Finally Reformed but It’s Not All Good News

A recent California, signed by Governor Jerry Brown in August, makes it the first state to abolish the use of a cash bail system. The bad news for those who are currently in jail awaiting trial is that the law will not take place until October 2019. Until that time, expect for traditional cash bail requirements to be in place.

While many are touting the reform as long overdue, it is not all good news. At The Mattern Law Firm, we appreciate that our clients will be released based on their relative risk to the community versus their ability to make bail. That said, it is not all good news and there are a few issues we will be keeping our eye on. If you or a loved one has been arrested, call our offices at The Mattern Law Firm for your consultation.

The problem with the current system

The law was signed after a state appellate court found the cash bail system unconstitutional. The court found that when cash bail was set so high that a defendant could not pay, the state was essentially detaining people without due process. Experts felt that the cash bail system penalized the poor and had a harsh impact on people who lacked economic means.

Release will now be related to risk

Local courts will, starting in October 2019, be in charge of determining who should stay in police custody and who should be released. They will use a risk-assessment algorithm that is set up to objectively decide who should be released pending trial and who should stay in jail. Various characteristics of the offense will be considered, along with the criminal history of the defendant and the current living situation of the defendant.

Defendants will then be labeled as low-, medium-, or high-risk. Low-risk defendants will be released pending trail and high-risk defendants will be detained. Some non-violent misdemeanor charges, such as shoplifting, will have automatic release within 12 hours of arrest. The problems come in with the additional steps needed to determine the fate of the medium-risk defendant. For them, it will be up to an additional hearing to make the decision.

Where is the bad news?

Most lawmakers, attorneys, and advocates we have talked to are pleased with the elimination of cash bail but are concerned about how the medium-risk cases will be handled. For these people, local judges will have a lot of discretion to decide their fate. When one judge may find a person unsuitable for release and detain them for the entirety of their time until trial – even though they are legally presumed innocent until proven guilty – another judge may find that some person not a risk.

With the level of discretion judges have, the concern is that the system will unfairly reward some and punish others. No matter what your offense is, you can count on The Mattern Law Firm to fight tirelessly from your first hearing to your last. Contact us at 310-342-8254 or fill out our online form for a free consultation.

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