Despite COVID-19 Jail Threat, Fresno County Still Imposes Cash Bail for Low-Level Offenses


By Julian Verdon

FRESNO – Fresno County’s new Emergency Bail Schedule policy allowed the county judge to issue eight arrest warrants with cash bail for failures to appear this—some warrants were set up to $35,000.

Under California’s COVID-19 Emergency Bail Schedule, many individuals arrested for misdemeanors would get released with $0 bail except for specific public safety circumstances. However, under the Fresno County Bail Schedule, there are particular stipulations for those who were released on their own recognizance.

“Bail for all misdemeanor and felony offenses will be set at $0, with the exception of only the offenses listed below, [. . .] A misdemeanor or felony violation alleged to have been committed when the arrestee had been previously released on their own recognizance or pursuant to $0 or other monetary bail,” according to the Fresno Superior Court.

Fresno County Superior Court Judge William Terrence issued arrest warrants for those who failed to appear and set high bails in Fresno’s Department 1 Misdemeanor Court.

“The court file finds that the defendant was cited by the Yolo County’s Sheriff’s Office and signed and promised to appear on today’s date at 8:30 in the morning. The current time is 2:07 in the afternoon, and the defendant has failed to appear, and no good cause has been provided for his absence. An arrest warrant shall be issued in the amount of $35,000,” declared Judge Terrence.

The purpose of the Emergency Bail Schedule was to reduce the jail population amid the coronavirus pandemic. The policy set the presumptive bail at $0 for lower-level offenders so as not to overcrowd jailing facilities during the pandemic.

In June, the Judicial Council of California voted to rescind the Emergency Bail measures. However, the Judicial Council stated that they rescinded the order because the pandemic does not affect each county equally.

“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. 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,” stated Justice Marsha Slough, a Judicial Council Member.

More than 30 counties in California voted to keep the Emergency Bail Schedule, following the Council’s advice. But some counties, Fresno included, decided to add certain modifications that imposed cash bail.

“Many counties adopted COVID-19 emergency bail schedules with some modifications, including imposing cash bail on those who were initially released on $0 bail and then are rearrested, or eliminating additional offenses from being considered for $0 bail,” according to the California Courts Newsroom.

Therefore, low-level offenders who do not show up to court and fail to give an adequate reason can be placed back in jail and with a high bail amount. The COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of stopping any time soon, and the high number of bodies in a jail facility could contribute to more outbreaks within the California penal system, health professionals warn.

Back in June, state officials discovered that 13 individuals at Fresno County Jail contracted COVID-19. A month after the Emergency Bail Schedule was reinstated with Fresno County’s new stipulations, the Fresno County’s Sheriff’s Office announced that 471 inmates at the jail tested positive for the virus.

By August, the total number of infected reached over 1,100.

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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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