California Abolishes Cash Bail For Some Who Cannot Pay

Becoming the next state to end bail, the California Supreme Court has ruled the current justice system unconstitutional in a unanimous decision, believing the mechanism of cash bail discriminates against the poor. As a result, California Supreme Court has instructed judges to instead release criminals who cannot afford bail.

“The common practice of conditioning freedom solely on whether an arrestee can afford bail is unconstitutional,” wrote Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar. “Other conditions of release – such as electronic monitoring, regular check-ins with a pretrial manager, community housing or shelter, and drug and alcohol treatment – can in many cases protect public and victim safety as well as assure the arrestee’s appearance at trial.”

“Pretrial detention on victim and public safety grounds, subject to specific and reliable constitutional constraints, is a key element of our criminal justice system,” Justice Cuéllar continued. “Conditioning such detention on the arrestee’s financial resources, without ever assessing whether a defendant can meet those conditions or whether the state’s interests could be met by less restrictive alternatives, is not.”

The California Supreme Court upheld a decision made by a San Francisco-based state court of appeal that allowed Kenneth Humphrey, a retired shipyard laborer charged with robbery and burglary, to be released with an ankle monitor simply because he could not afford bail. After a judge initially set bail at $600,000, he lowered it to $350,000, which Humphrey still could not afford.

Lawyers used a 2013 study of San Francisco’s criminal justice system that found black adults were 11 times more likely than white adults to be booked into jail before trial, leading judges to rule in Humphrey’s favor, setting him free with an order to stay away from the victim and to participate in a residential substance abuse treatment program for seniors while setting a new precedent for California’s legal system.

Though this decision is expected to increase the number of criminals released by judges, it still is endlessly celebrated by the progressive wing.

“No one should be locked up in jail simply because they cannot afford to buy their freedom,” tweeted recently-elected L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón. “Money bail is unjust and unnecessary. It must go.”

This decision comes only four months after California voters shot down a ballot measure that would have abolished cash bail. The state will join Illinois in abolishing cash bail as Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill in February that monetary bail for jail release for individuals arrested and awaiting trial.

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