By Susana Jurado
SACRAMENTO – An order from the state’s highest court could be groundbreaking in a move to reform the state’s current bail system, an issue supported by the California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
The California Supreme Court officially issued a new order to make the In re Humphrey opinion a reality – that opinion reflects a ruling by the California First District Court of Appeals that expects state trial courts to consider an individual’s financial circumstances and ability to pay a set bail before deciding that bail amount.
In the original In re Humphrey case, a San Francisco man awaiting trial had been detained for a significant amount of time because he could not afford the $350,000 bail set by the San Francisco Superior Court.
By California law, the courts can order detention without bail if the defendant poses a serious threat or public safety risk. However, courts are not required to pose an unaffordable amount of money set to detain defendants who do not pose any sort of threat.
Yet, this was not the case for In re Humphrey, where these rules were violated as the court regarded the defendant as eligible for release, but gave the defendant a considerable amount of bail he could not afford. He was then forced to stay detained simply because of his financial circumstances.
The California Supreme Court originally denied the request to make this opinion binding, but due to the unforeseen circumstances of the COVID -19 pandemic, this warranted reconsideration of the matter because the goal was to keep as few people in jails as possible because of social distancing problems.
Eventually, this led the California Supreme Court to issue an order that would break the state bail system wide open.
Bail schedules are often known to cause felony-charged, low-income individuals to be arrested and left to “a virtual presumption of incarceration.” However, this new order can be a catalyst for change, as it works to place some roadblocks on the trial court’s unquestioning reliance on bail schedules.
CA AG Becerra has been a force in urging the California Supreme Court to officially end unaffordable bail, in binding In re Humphrey’s ruling to trial courts in Northern California.
Yet, the binding effect of the Court of Appeal’s decision did not take effect until the California Supreme Court officially ruled in favor of this request, and only recently issued an order to take into consideration the defendant’s financial circumstances.
“In making bail determinations, trial courts across California must now take into account individual circumstances and the person’s ability to pay,” said Attorney General Becerra, “Bottom line: this is a critical step forward for fairness in our bail system. I’m grateful to the California Supreme Court for taking swift action on this request. At the California Department of Justice, we’ll keep pushing forward in our broader fight for justice.”
To further fuel the elimination of expensive bail, Attorney General Becerra had also written a letter to the California Supreme Court reiterating the claim that pretrial detention should be decided based on the “individualized assessment of the need for a person to be detained, rather than on a defendant’s financial resources.”
In other words, people are innocent until proven guilty, so pretrial incarceration should not be decided because they cannot afford bail.
“While justice must be impartial, it cannot be blind to the inequities of our society,” said Becerra, “Bail decisions should be about danger to the public, not dollars in your pocket. Our criminal justice system has to work for everyone.”
Recently, Becerra had actively been involved in fighting against the “unlawful revision of Florida’s felon re-enfranchisement law, which restricted voting rights for people who are unable to pay court fines and fees.”
In June of this year, Attorney General Becerra promoted change on policing as he “called for a wide range of statewide police reforms” centered on coming up with solutions that can potentially save more lives.
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