California Voters to Decide the Fate of the Bail System
In August of 2018, the California legislature made a historical vote with SB10 to shift away from the use of cash bail to determine whether people who have been arrested, will be simply freed or detained in jail indefinitely pending their court dates.
The measure called Senate Bill 10 or (SB10 for short) was intended to be implemented into law in October of 2019. Instead, the bail bonds industry fought the measure and acquired enough signatures to make sure the changes won’t happen until 2021 at the earliest, and only if the voters agree with the measure.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced earlier this year that SB10, that passed the legislation last fall, has been pushed to a referendum to be held in November of 2020, giving the public the say on whether the bill passes or not.
What is SB10?
SB10, was signed into law by former Gov. Jerry Brown in August 2018. Its sole purpose was to eliminate the use of cash bail in the State of California in its current form completely.
Cash bail has come under fire all across the country and has been called a pretrial system that courts often apply without any thought.
Many legislators in California believe this has resulted in too many poor people being stuck in jail while awaiting their day in court. And not because they’re dangerous or pose a flight risk, but simply put, they cannot afford the money required to post a bail bond.
Many legislators believe that most people being held in jail because of lack of money, are statistically more likely to plead guilty and receive harsher punishments than they would have received if they were free to fight the case from the outside.
What Happens if Bail is Eliminated?
Instead of the cash bail system, all courts in California would be required to implement a very expensive pretrial system that would assess and monitor those arrested.
The cost of implementing this program is expected to cost taxpayers nearly 4 billion dollars per year. A hefty price tag for a system that currently costs taxpayers nothing and currently brings revenue to State of California now.
How SB10 in Current Form Would Work
After arrest, all defendants would be evaluated based on their level of risk and this risk would ultimately determine if they are released from custody. A defendant would be assessed a risk score on a scale from low, medium and high risk depending on several factors and then conditions would be established to help keep track of them.
If a defendant is found in the low-risk category they will be immediately released. But, if a person is found to be in the medium or high-risk category, he/she may be deemed too dangerous to be released and would have to be held in custody while awaiting trial. Therefore, money would no longer be a condition of release.
This obviously doesn’t sit very well with bail bond companies or the surety companies that underwrite them.
New Jersey shifted its bail system to where cash bail is almost obsolete, and that has completely destroyed the bail bond industry. The California bail bond industry fought SB10 extensively, and after it was signed into law, they hit the streets to start gathering enough signatures to force a public vote.
The Push to Stop SB10 was Successful
In September of 2018 the bail bond agents and surety companies in California started gathering signatures in an attempt to overturn SB10. In November 2018 the bail bond companies publicly stated that they had gathered more than the required number of signatures required and had gathered nearly 600,000 signatures, to push SB10 onto a referendum.
Alex Padilla the Secretary of State validated that they qualified SB10 for a ballot measure. This means SB10 cannot legally be implemented until after the public votes.
Passing SB10 will give the judicial branch and the court system a significant amount of control over how these new systems will be implemented, and the law has been written in such a way that it will give judges extreme latitude to order defendants to remain in custody, while awaiting trial.
Because of the changes made to SB10 at the last minute, many criminal justice reform groups that once supported the measure and helped craft the bill have completely turned against it. They are worried that SB10 in its current form will actually lead to increases in people being held in custody while awaiting trial.
Bail is a Constitutional Right
The bail bond industry argues that those who have been arrested have a right to cash bail and this right is protected under the 8th amendment to the US Constitution as well as the constitution of California.
So, what do we do now? We wait. It’s all in the hands of the voters in California, and in November 2020, they will determine the fate of the bail bonds industry.