California’s latest bail reform effort comes to a halt for this year
The arrest of a parolee in a murder after being released without bail helped torpedo the California Legislature’s latest attempt to reform the cash bail system for this year, the project’s author said Thursday. of law.
Democratic Senator Bob Hertzberg unsuccessfully tried several variations of a new measure after voters in November rejected a law that would have ended the cash bond in favor of risk assessments.
His original bill cleared the Senate but faced opposition from the more conservative Assembly before Friday’s legislative deadline, though Democrats control the necessary two-thirds majorities in both chambers.
The California District Attorneys Association gained traction by opposing the measure this week when a parolee was arrested and charged with the murder of a Sacramento woman found dead with her two dogs killed in her burning house.
Troy Davis, 51, was released without bail on suspicion of car theft in June and did not appear for his arraignment.
“The gruesome murder of the Sacramento woman has caused concern among several of my colleagues,” Hertzberg said in a statement to The Associated Press. he ran out of time to explain this to reluctant lawmakers before Friday’s adjournment deadline.
“We’ve made a lot of progress this year and will be back next year in better shape,” said Hertzberg.
El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson, president of the prosecutors association, said lawmakers supporting changes to the bail system “express sympathy for prisoners instead of prioritizing safety public “.
Hertzberg said he would continue to work for “a fair, secure and equitable bond system free from industry greed.”
The current bail system, he said, “locks up Californians who pose no threat to the public and who have not been convicted of any crime, simply because they cannot pay. what the bail industry demands ”.
Hertzberg recently heavily amended his original bill after he encountered opposition in the assembly.
He would now set a statewide bail schedule that would take into account the finances of suspects and return the money if the charges were dropped.
This follows the California Supreme Court ruling in April that judges must consider suspects’ ability to pay when setting bail, and Hertzberg said his bill implemented the decision to the High Court.
It also follows a statewide court order last year that set bail at $ 0 for numerous crimes in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic in a bid to reduce vulnerable populations. in county jails.
Hertzberg’s bill originally mimicked that $ 0 bail order when he authorized the Senate.
His amended bill requires the Judicial Council to set a statewide bail schedule by 2023, replacing schedules that vary across the state’s 58 counties.
Counsel should consider whether non-monetary conditions such as electronic surveillance could protect the public and victims while reasonably ensuring that suspects show up for court appearances.
Judges should take into account the financial situation of suspects. They should also return the suspects’ money or property if the charges are dropped or the suspect shows up at all court appearances.
Surety companies could keep a 5% surtax on that money. Hertzberg said it would be an improvement over the current system which he likened to “predatory loans.”
Surety companies and insurers have said the return policy will make the surety industry unsustainable. The American Bail Coalition said that in practice the bill would end the bailout industry in California because most suspects could say they couldn’t afford to pay it.
In staging a promised court battle if the bill becomes law, the Golden State Bail Agents Association argued that lawmakers’ latest bail reform effort “is a bad faith attempt to thwart the will of voters,” which 55% rejected Proposal 25 in November. .
Bail is money or property that can be forfeited if suspects do not show up for trial. Traditionally, judges set bail based on the criminal records of suspects and pending charges. Critics have said it allows wealthy suspects to return home to prepare for trial while low-income defendants remain in jail, a system they say has encouraged some innocent people to plead guilty to get out of jail.
The Anti-Recidivism Coalition, a reform group that supports the bill, estimates that it currently costs nearly $ 4.6 million a day to keep about 40,000 offenders incarcerated in county jails.
While the bail bill stalled, lawmakers on Thursday sent several more criminal justice bills to Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The first requires judges to give “great importance” to mitigating circumstances that favor the rejection of improvements that could significantly lengthen prison terms, unless it endangers public safety. Democratic Senator Nancy Skinner said improvements are much more likely to be forced on black suspects. His bill would enact 1 of 10 recommendations from the California Newsom Committee on Criminal Code Review.
The second enshrines court decisions according to which judges must impose half of the three possible penalties authorized by law, unless there are mitigating or aggravating circumstances. The bill states that aggravating circumstances prolonging a sentence must be admitted by the suspect or found to be true beyond a reasonable doubt by a judge or jury.
A third decriminalizes jaywalking, a crime which Democratic Congressman Phil Ting says is arbitrarily applied, most often against people of color – sometimes leading to deadly confrontations with police. Fines can run into the hundreds of dollars, which he says is too high for a relatively minor offense. Virginia this year became the first state to decriminalize jaywalking.