People Fail to Appear in Court, but Judge Lets Them Go on ‘Zero Bail’ because of Pandemic


By Julian Verdon

INDIO, CA – The bad news is that Riverside County Superior Court Judge Emily Benjamini issued failure to appear arrest warrants to 13 people—but the good news is that most of those warrants carried instructions to cite and release at zero dollars bail due to new COVID-19 precautions.

For those zero bail arrest warrants Judge Benjamini ruled “based on the nature of the charge, the court is inclined to issue a warrant today, but because of the Fourth Temporary Emergency Bail Schedule, it will be a zero dollar warrant equating to a cite and release.”

The California Court system has issued the Temporary Emergency Bail Schedule to combat the spread of coronavirus within its detention facilities.

Law enforcement typically uses cite and release for minor offenses. However, the Temporary Emergency Bail Schedule broadens the scope to most misdemeanors, and even some non-violent felonies.

The Temporary Emergency Bail Schedule aims to reduce COVID-19 among jail populations by lowering the amount of bail to zero dollars and releasing the defendant at the scene of the arrest. The solution is temporary.

Advocacy groups, including the Western Center on Law and Poverty and Dream Corps, believe the Temporary Emergency Bail Schedule will save lives for those in jail because, instead of placing inmates into a small cell and risking the spread of COVID-19, they are released and allowed to distance themselves from others.

Certain felony violations are exempt from the rule, and a judge can still issue bail or deny bail under specific circumstances.

This rule came into effect amid reports that California jails had still not issued much information about the number of coronavirus cases within their detention facilities.

According to the Board of State and Community Corrections, jails must release their data on COVID-19 related cases and deaths among inmates and employees.

BSCC Board Chair, Linda Penner, said in a letter to sheriffs and probation officers there are issues with a lack of data, noting, “It is clear that cases from detention facilities are significantly underreported in [the California Department of Public Health] database and are inaccurate compared to public and media reports on COVID-19 cases in jails and juvenile detention facilities.”

According to the Riverside Superior Court, where Judge Benjamini operates, “This bail schedule was adopted in order to continue the practice of maintaining public health measures, aimed at reducing the spread of the Coronavirus within the jail population and those that serve the jail population.”

For the Superior Court of the County of Riverside, the Fourth Temporary Emergency Bail Schedule went into effect June 20, 2020, and will remain in effect until further notice.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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