Guide to Cash Bail in California
In late August, Governor Brown signed into law a bill that eliminates cash bail for all suspects awaiting trial. The law was prompted by an appellate court that ruled the current cash bail system unconstitutional. The law goes into effect in 2019.
Bail BasicsBail allows those pending trial to be released so that they can continue to go to school or work. But there is always a risk when letting someone out on bail that they will take off in order to avoid prosecution.
To create an incentive for defendants to show up, California courts used to require that defendants put up an amount of money in order to be released. If they attended all hearings and the trial, the court would refund their money. If the defendant skipped town, then they forfeited their money.
Bail BondsJudges set bail, with some bail being so high that many people accused of low level crimes could not afford it. Defendants had the option of buying a bail bond, usually for a fraction of the face value of the bond. For example, a bond for $50,000 might only cost a defendant 10%, or $5,000.
Nevertheless, many people often could not afford bail bonds. In addition, the bond system had grown incredibly profitable, to the chagrin of many social justice advocates. In fact, the state*s bail agents are upset about the recent changes to the cash bail system and are hoping to block it.
Bail is Still Available in CaliforniaUnder the new law, criminal defendants will still be able to ask for bail. However, the court will no longer require that you to put up cash or get a bond.
Instead, each judge will decide who gets bail by using an algorithm that will look at the risk of a defendant committing another crime or not showing up at trial. The judge will look at many factors, such as the severity of the crime, sex, age, and any criminal history.
For example, most people charged with misdemeanors will be released without the judge needing to perform any risk assessment. Low-risk defendants will also be released, though medium-risk defendants will require assessment and possibly oversight.
However, high-risk individuals can still be denied bail. This is an important point: the end of the cash bail system does not mean everyone gets bail.
Defendants Still Need an Experienced Attorney by their SideThe abolition of the cash bail system has not dispensed with the need of attorney. If anything, defendants need an experienced attorney now more than ever.
Not everyone will receive bail. Furthermore, the new risk assessment algorithm is ripe for abuse. Because low-level offenders will automatically receive bail, prosecutors will face pressure to overcharge. This means defendants can expect an obstacle course on their way to getting bail, even after the cash bail system has been dismantled.