Last week the California Judicial Council—over the strenuous objection of reformers and public defenders across the state—ended the emergency bail schedule, or zero bail. But on Wednesday, Yolo County Superior Court and the presiding judge announced that the judges of Yolo Superior voted unanimously to maintain the emergency bail schedule adopted by the Chief Justice on April 6.
Presiding Judge Samuel T. McAdam said in a comment: “We believe that the current Bail Schedule is working well here in Yolo County and as a matter of public health, we should stay the course. It is not lost on the Judges that, while state and federal prisons and some jails throughout California have been hotspots of Covid-19 outbreaks, we have so far avoided it here.”
He said, “Yolo legal community is safe, and because of that we have a fully operational courthouse where we can provide fair and timely justice.”
Under the Chief Justice’s schedule, bail is set in all cases where an individual is charged with a serious and violent felony or charged with a delineated specific crime, such as domestic violence or driving under the influence.
The judge noted that zero bail only applies to low level felony and misdemeanor charges.
He said, “Importantly, if an arresting police officer believes that there is a public safety risk, the officer can ask a Judge to set or enhance bail.”
The judge noted that this assessment may be particularly appropriate where an arrestee has multiple pending cases or was arrested while already being supervised by the Probation Department.
However, he believes, “Making an individualized determination based on credible information is the best way to assess the risk.”
The judge announced that “the Emergency Bail Schedule will remain in effect during the State of Emergency or further Order of the Court.”
The decision by Yolo came a week after the California Judicial Council, as expected, voted 17-2 to end the emergency bail schedule.
“The Judicial Council’s action better reflects the current needs of our state, which has different health concerns and restrictions county-to-county based on the threat posed by COVID-19,” said Justice Marsha Slough, a Judicial Council member and chair of the Executive and Planning Committee.
She said, “We urge local courts to continue to use the emergency COVID-19 bail schedule where necessary to protect the health of the community, the courts, and the incarcerated. We are also asking courts to report back by June 20 on whether they plan to keep the COVID-19 emergency bail schedule, or another reduced bail schedule.”
It also comes as the Yolo County DA continues to pump out press releases highlighting the still relatively low percentage of cases where people, released under the emergency order, re-offended.
On Wednesday, Jeff Reisig’s office sent out another press release stating, “Over the last week, five more individuals previously released from custody as a result of California Judicial Council’s Statewide Emergency ‘0’ Bail Schedule were charged with new felony crimes. “
The release, which came before the judge’s announcement, noted, “Counties are still encouraged to use either the statewide emergency bail schedule or their own emergency bail schedule as part of ongoing efforts to keep those within the criminal justice system safe. Yolo County Presiding.”
The release stated that the judge at that point had not announced which would be used, “but has sought feedback from the criminal justice partners.”
DA Reisig did not indicate what his feedback was.
Melinda Aiello, his Assistant Chief Deputy DA, in a CalMatters article, argued that an “important issue not fully considered by this policy is that some individuals have mental health and/or addiction issues that drive their criminal behavior. When these individuals are in custody their needs can be assessed, treatment can begin, and they can be transferred to treatment facilities.”
She added, “Immediate release precludes us from connecting these individuals with the services necessary to address their issues and prevent recurring criminal conduct. This does nothing to protect our community, potential victims or the offenders themselves.”
While the DA’s office has put out releases each time someone has re-offended—our tally is 25—they have never attempted to quantify how many people have been released. A month ago, the sheriff put out figures that suggested, at that time, the percentage of re-offenders was less than five percent.
Reformers across the state warn that the only way to combat the threat of COVID-19 in the jails and prisons is large scale release.
SF’s DA Chesa Boudin recently argued, “Mass incarceration undermines public safety.
“Overcrowded jails and prisons are exactly the type of tinderbox in which COVID-19 and other diseases can spread like wildfire,” he added. He believes it is a risk not only to the jail population but also, given the churn and the staff coming and going, to the whole community. “So what we did was we listened to the advice of public health officials.”
As the LA Times pointed out three weeks ago, the zero bail change “makes perfect sense” as it “keeps jails from filling up with suspects who haven’t been convicted of anything and who pose little danger to the public if they are sent home with instructions to come to court on the appointed date.”
Moreover, “the order allows them to detain suspects, just as before, if they can convince a judge that releasing the person would pose an unacceptable risk to public safety.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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