California to end cash bail system: good or bad?

In short, people arrested for non violent misdemeanors will be released on their own recognizance. Everyone else will have a pre-trial risk assessment performed and be released without any money, but upon the terms and conditions imposed by the court.

In some circumstances, and the article is not clear which, some people are ineligible for pre-trial release and will remain incarcerated pending trial.

I’ve made no secret that I hate the cash bail system. It makes no sense in modern society and bail bond companies, IMHO, add nothing productive to the criminal justice system.

However, I tend to agree with the ACLU here (yes, I need the brain bleach) in that it seems that a court can detain you without bond, not just for capital felonies, but if it is of the opinion that you just don’t need to be out.

I also do not like the idea of terms and conditions for pre-trial release. I am innocent until proven guilty, so when I am out awaiting trial, I think it is outrageous that the court can force me to drug screen, be home by a certain time, report to a probation officer, etc.

So I think this is a mixed bag, and it may turn out poorly. Thoughts?

How is that different, in a practical sense, from being kept in jail without trial?

Because in my experience, these things are abused by prosecutors. Let me give an example:

Say a guy is arrested and charged with domestic battery. I review the case and the evidence is rather flimsy and I believe that there is a good chance of winning at trial.

However, during the incident, the police note that my client was intoxicated. The state asks and the judge agrees that a condition of his bail is that he not consume alcohol and that he be randomly tested for it. Well, my client is an alcoholic. That’s not illegal, but he will invariably fail one of these tests soon.

When he does, the state moves to revoke his bail and have him jailed pending trial which may be up to a year away. The typical punishment for first offense domestic battery is usually probation or a day or two in jail. After the client is in for about a week, the state offers to let him plead guilty in exchange for time served, however out of the other side of their mouths they will argue that he cannot be readmitted to bond because he will get drunk again and beat his wife.

Of course, I have to take that offer to my client which is: plead guilty and go home today, or sit here for another year and maybe win. And again, this guy may very well be innocent and have a great case, but the thumb screws are put to him to plead guilty because of the bail condition that he was under.

It depends on how well the pre trial assessment is at predicting if the accused will show up to trial. The good thing about the bail bond system is that it gets people to show up, and if they don’t provides for people to go after them at no cost to the court system.

And how is this concern any different for any “new” thing?

Yes, the proposed solutions will be imperfect. Over time, HOPEFULLY, they will be tinkered with and improved. Other States will try their own solutions. Some will work, most will have some level of problems. That is how progress works.

Philosophically, I am very interested in any system that eliminates the direct impact of the presence of money, and this sounds like a step in the right, if very uncertain, direction.

Well, I don’t see how one can view the “cash bail system” as being anything but discriminatory. It’s also very arbitrary and subjective because, in essence, it’s based purely on how much money a given judge thinks you need to pay for your pretrial freedom.

Not sure everyone would agree that a bounty hunter force is a great addition to the legal system.

The Canadian system very rarely asks for a cash deposit and as far as I know release conditions aren’t abused by prosecutors to any great degree. However, the dynamics are pretty different because our legal system is much less politicized- judges aren’t elected at all and the Attorney General is appointed from a sitting member of provincial parliament, not directly elected as such.

Scroll down to “Bail Hearing”.

I can also think of a scenario where more people end up sitting in jail awaiting trial.

Arrestees are going to fall into three categories - A. those who aren’t going to show up for their hearing no matter what, B. those who will show up no matter what, and C. those who might or might not show up, depending on how much they have to lose. Thus Jamal might blow his hearings off if he is released on his own recognizance, but will show up if his mother puts up $5000 for his bail. So Jamal is arrested, gets released, disappears (because his mother doesn’t lose any money by it), a warrant is issued for his arrest, he is re-arrested, and he sit in jail. Whereas if his mother had been forced to post his bond, he would not need to be jailed.

Even if the algorithm mentioned in the article is perfect, it will only identify those in class A and B.


Sounds like a great practise. I doubt the number of people who skip out on their court dates will increase much and most of them will get picked up on the outstanding warrant anyway.

The new system apparently uses an algorithm to predict likelihood of flight and determine whether pretrial detention is required, with the stated goal of eliminating human discretion. It will be interesting to see how this feature shakes out in future litigation.

On first reflection, it seems like the parameters of the algorithm would have to be available to the defendant, so that its determination can be challenged. And absent some possibility for the judge to override its determination, it seems like there might be constitutional problems.

Just legalize drugs. So much pressure will be taken off the criminal justice system that it’ll get the bends.

So much money will fall out of the prison industrial complex and return to the working poor that the entire country will get the bends. Can’t be having that now, can we.

Undeniably good. Bail is basically a huge tax on the poor, and a slap on the wrist for the wealthy. And not criminals, as people automatically assume, bail is usually paid by poor families who are victimized by an extremely predatory loan industry trying to help their suspected cousins, siblings, spouses, etc. It’s an outdated concept and I’m glad to see it go.

In my county they already have probation produce a pre-trial report for everyone charged with a felony. I’ll be curious to see if they need to do the same for every misdemeanor case as well, as that would be a huge extra workload.

FWIW this already exists (if you’re granted own recognizance release) so not much would change in that regard.

Well, Bail is also a penalty for those who are innocent. I know of at least one guy, innocent as hell, whose bail and legal expenses cost him over $10000.

  • Low-income people are less likely to afford bail, meaning the bulk of America’s jailed population is made up of people whose incarceration stems from being poor. People in jail are more likely to plead guilty, studies show, because it’s typically the fastest track to getting home. By design, plea bargains are supposed to be a way of avoiding lengthy, costly trials for defendants who are clearly guilty. Instead, they’ve become a way for low-income people to get out of jail as quickly as possible, even if it means pleading guilty to a crime they didn’t commit.*

Remember- a lot of crimes are never even prosecuted. But under the bail system, you pay a penalty anyway. Innocent or guilty.

If you show up to court don’t you get your bail money back?

Bail was a good idea that has become a penalty for the poor - I support this.

My concern is that we will never again get great movies like Jackie Brown, or a tv series like The Fall Guy, and the Bad News Bears will have to get sponsored by a strip club now.

Still fees involved. Or so my friend told me. :stuck_out_tongue:

If you have the cash you do. If you don’t and need a bail bondsman to get you out you lose 10% of the bond. A $10,000 costs $1,000 out of pocket even if you show up and are found not guilty.

If you can afford to pay your whole bail out of pocket- which only the rich can- yes. Otherwise you pay a bondsman 10%- which is not refundable.

So on a $50000 bail, pretty standard, you can cough up $50000 or pay a bondsman $5000. The point is, you have to be able to scrape up that $50K while still in jail.