Bail Court ruling could upend California court system
In a matter of days, or weeks at most, Californians will know whether their state’s Supreme Court will respect their views on a key aspect of criminal justice, or whether their ideas of what is fair and just will be ignored.
Just a few months ago, voters chose with a margin of almost 57-43% to reject Proposition 25 and, alongside a law passed in 2019 that would have ended the cash bond virtually everywhere in that state.
Instead, judges would have been forced to grant interim release for felony defendants, regardless of the seriousness of their offense, provided that a single judge found them unlikely to flee or to commit acts. more violent.
Bail slaves and victims of crime breathed a sigh of relief when this so-called reform was launched. But now comes the highest court in the state, apparently ready to completely ignore the will of the voters.
If the judges choose to get rid of the cash bond in almost all cases, they will follow the lead of Governor Gavin Newsom, who used the pandemic emergency power to suspend most cash bonds in the spring. last, allegedly to reduce overcrowding in county jails. and help prevent the spread of disease.
The case the judges are using as justification for their likely ruling against the bail system involves a San Francisco man who spent a year in jail on a theft charge, unable to post $ 350,000 bail .
When they entered the case about two months ago, the judges appeared to believe that the accused was discriminated against because he could not post a tenth of his nominal bond, the amount that most slaves require before paying the balance of the deposit as a kind of loan.
What had the 66-year-old suspect done? He allegedly broke into the apartment of a 79-year-old man in 2017, threatening to put a pillowcase over the victim’s head while stealing $ 5 and scented water.
The theft was trivial, but the alleged break-in, threat and alarm it caused shouldn’t happen to anyone. His lawyer argued that it was unfair to keep the accused intruder in jail while awaiting trial simply because he was broke.
Most of the legal officials involved in the case seem to agree. An appeals court ruled in August that it was unfair to keep an accused in custody when the bond set is well beyond his ability to pay it.
The Supreme Court followed up by telling all California judges to set the bond only in amounts a defendant can afford to pay, at least until the San Francisco case is decided – which will be soon.
Judge Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, at a later hearing, cited a Nevada Supreme Court ruling that no judge can set a higher bond than an accused can afford, unless it is the only way to guarantee that the suspect will show up for trial. California no longer has such limits, but Cuellar argued that the state constitution of California can be interpreted in the same way as that of Nevada.
Other judges argued “taking each case individually, trying to determine the dangerousness and the amount of the bond that must be set to constitute detention”, the finances of the accused being part of this calculation.
There is a naïve quality to all of this. On the one hand, this assumes that the police or other judicial personnel can investigate the finances of thousands of accused criminals. A deputy attorney general, supported by sitting state attorney general Xavier Becerra, argued that most cash sureties are unfair because they “treat equally dangerous defendants differently based on their wealth.”
All of this, of course, goes against the recently expressed will of voters, in addition to essentially ignoring Proposition 6 of 2008, which denied bail to undocumented migrants accused of crimes, while still allowing judges to fix bail based on the seriousness of the crime, the accused’s history and the risk to the victim.
There is currently no law in California that makes a suspect’s financial situation part of the bail calculation. It may not make a difference for the state’s highest court. He seems to be heading straight for the challenge of the voters’ will and doesn’t seem to care.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected]