On Tuesday, August 23, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that officially eliminates cash bail for suspects awaiting trial. Thus, California becomes the first state to make the elimination of cash bail an official policy.
The new law goes into effect October 1, 2019. It eliminates the cash bail system in a sweeping reform for the state. Now, instead of requiring defendants to pay for being released before the trial, their release will hinge on an assessment of their risk to public safety.
“Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement.
The money bail system has long been viewed as one that perpetuates inequality. People, who could afford to make bail, easily and quickly got out of jail, meanwhile, low-income people who were not able to pay for it, sat in jail until the court took action. The new law will replace the cash bail system with a risk-assessment system allowing suspects to wait for court decision out of jail notwithstanding their ability to pay cash bail. Under the new bill, also known as Senate Bill 10, a pretrial assessment would be done by either court employees or a local public agency that was contracted to determine a defendant’s risk. The defendants will be assessed as high, medium or low risk.
Suspects being condemned of serious, violent felonies won’t be eligible for release prior to trial but the majority of suspects arrested for nonviolent misdemeanors will be let go within 12 hours of being booked.
This action follows the commitment made last August by Governor Brown, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and the bill’s authors – Senator Robert Hertzberg (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) – to work together on long-needed reforms in the second year of the two-year legislative session.
The new cash bail eliminating bill gave rise to controversial opinions. Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye calls the bill transformative in the justice system as it ends up the old, unsafe and unfair system of money bail. While, The ACLU of California, which initially supported the bill, opposes it claiming that it gives too much control to courts in deciding which defendants remain in jail.