Future of San Francisco’s Bail System in Question

Sheriff Proposes Unconstitutional ‘Keep Everybody Locked Up’ Plan

(From Press Release)– A critical hearing was held today regarding the future of the money bail system in San Francisco. The case, Buffin v. Hennessy, has been pending in federal court for the Northern District of California. On March 4 of this year, federal judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers declared San Francisco’s use of a money bail schedule unconstitutional, and today’s hearing was to determine the plan for remedying the condemned constitutional violation. The Sheriff and City Attorney proposed detaining everyone until arraignment, which would make detention, not liberty, the standard.

In March, Equal Justice Under Law, a national law non-profit based in Washington, D.C., achieved historic victory in the struggle against wealth-based discrimination in the criminal justice system. A federal judge ruled that the San Francisco’s application of California state law requiring a bail schedule is unconstitutional because it “replaces the presumption of innocence with the presumption of detention.”

Although Sheriff Vicky Hennessy and City Attorney Dennis Herrera have long claimed to support the lawsuit, they appear to be going back on their prior public statements. Three years ago, Sheriff Hennessy agreed the bail schedule was unconstitutional, stating that money bail “unfairly discriminates against the poor” and is “an all-purpose denial of liberty for the indigent.” Furthermore, City Attorney Herrera stated in a press release, “Keeping people locked up for no reason other than they can’t afford to post bail can have far-reaching consequences . . . . People lose their jobs and their homes. Families fall apart. Taxpayers shoulder the cost of jailing people who don’t need to be there. In other words, the current bail system is not just unconstitutional, it’s bad public policy.”

Yet in today’s hearing, the Sheriff and City Attorney proposed that the alternative should be to detain everyone until arraignment. This would result in all arrested persons spending days or potentially weeks in jail until their hearing. Equal Justice Under Law Executive Director, Phil Telfeyan, explains why this plan is unjust: “I am appalled that two respected city officials are going back on the public statements they have made throughout this case. Their proposal will only exacerbate the very problems that they previously acknowledged are unconstitutional. Locking everyone up means more jobs lost, more families torn apart, and more costs to taxpayers.” Alternatively, Equal Justice Under Law argues indigent individuals should be released with unsecured bond, a practice that does not require money up front and that has proven effective in jurisdictions across the country.

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