California Eliminates Cash Bail for People Accused of Crimes

Cash bail has long been a system for detaining and releasing those accused of crimes before trial. Under such a process, almost anyone who can pay the posted bail amount can stay out of detainment until the case’s trial date, the bail money acting as collateral and incentive to appear at trial. However, California legislators have recently signed a bill into effect that eliminates the cash bail system.

What Does the New Law Do?

California’s Senate Bill 10, the California Money Bail Reform Act, goes beyond reducing reliance on cash bail and instead cuts out the system entirely. Rather than releasing a person based on his or her ability to put forth a bail amount, California’s new system instead will evaluate people on the potential risk they may pose to public safety. Those who pass the pretrial assessment will be able to continue their lives until the time of trial, while those deemed as dangerous will remain detained until their trials have completed.

Court employees or a public agency responsible for assessing a defendant’s risk will oversee these pretrial assessments. The assessments will include the likelihood of the defendant committing a new crime or appearing in court for a different matter while released. People will be able to earn a high, medium, or low-risk ranking in assessment.

The assessment results will also include a recommendation for conditions of release, which may include home detention or GPS trackers. Any defendant who scores a high-risk ranking will not be eligible for release. Anyone arrested for violent felonies will also be ineligible for release before trial, regardless of the assigned risk level.

California Senate Bill 10 Goes Into Effect on October 1, 2019

Rationale Behind Senate Bill 10

The cash bail system has long been subject to criticism from many angles. One of the biggest problems with the setup is that almost anyone can be free until their trial date – so long as the individual has enough resources to pay the bail. Many critics of the bail system claim that it creates inequality among defendants, like those in better financial shape are more likely to have the available resources to pay bail.

While a high bail amount may not pose any problems for someone with the money to pay the amount, those who are much less financially secure face a larger challenge. One defendant may be able to walk free, while another may remain in detainment simply because he or she cannot afford the bail. Many others may need a bail bond to secure their freedom, ending up in debt, even if they pose a minimal risk to public safety upon release.

California legislators hope to put an end to such financial inequality in the justice system with the passing of Senate Bill 10.

Some members of California legislation have concerns that the change in bail system will lead to further complications, as the risk assessment system leaves open room for bias by court officials, probation officers, and assessment agencies.

The National Trend to Limit the Bail System

Many other states and counties across the country have taken steps to reduce the reliance on the bail system, often with similar motives fueling the action. New Jersey, Kentucky, and the District of Columbia have also taken steps to reduce the practice of bail, though their laws have not taken the same elimination approach as California’s.

However, even such limitations on the practice have shown trends of success. With more low-risk defendants released without cash bail in New Jersey throughout 2017, the state’s jail population dropped 20% that year. Lower jail populations can also help reduce the risks of overcrowding in detainment that many institutions across the nation face.

Many other states are starting to take a bail reduction or elimination approach. As the law goes into effect, we’ll be able to see the impact it has on lower jail populations and better equality in the justice system.