By Ned Meiners
SACRAMENTO, CA – The recent California Supreme Court ruling, In re Humphrey, has made it mandatory a judge must consider a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail amounts—with certain exceptions, like public safety.
At least one California judge had admitted he is unsure of how to rule in consideration of a case.
On Monday morning in Sacramento County Superior Court, Judge Jeffrey Goodman had a bail hearing for Michael Chipman who has charges stemming from two different cases, possession of a firearm, and robbery and assault.
Private defense attorney Jennifer Mouzis began the hearing by explaining Chipman’s financial status.
“Mr. Chipman does not have any source of income. He has only $300 to his name…that was a gift from his grandmother. He has no bank accounts, no assets, no loans, no debts, but also no income,” said Mouzis.
Currently, Chipman’s total bail is set at $4 million.
Mouzis called Chipman’s gun case “fairly run of the mill.” Drugs and a duffel bag containing a gun were allegedly found in a vehicle that Chipman had been using. Chipman is a convicted felon, barred from owning or possessing firearms. The defense maintains the duffel did not belong to the defendant and contained the ID of another individual.
Deputy District Attorney Lauren Weiss explained that bail was set so high in this case because he had previous strikes, as well as other charges. Currently Chipman faces charges of robbery, pimping and assault in which the defendant allegedly pistol-whipped the victim.
“I actually think, pursuant to Humphrey, given his violent past, violent and dangerous conduct in this case and recent FTAs [failures to appear], it should be set at no bail,” explained Weiss.
While Humphrey states that holding an individual on bail which they cannot possibly pay violates the due process clause of the California Constitution, it does rule that the court may hold an individual in custody in the interest of public or victim safety.
Mouzis countered that the interest of public safety could be properly served with ankle monitoring or other supervision. “The Supreme Court was very, very clear. Those cases where someone was to be held in custody with no bail, were extraordinarily rare,” argued the defense.
The prosecution disagreed. When Judge Goodman asked what appropriate conditions for release might be, Weiss stated that none seemed appropriate.
“It’s hard to say your Honor, because of the multitude of crimes involved,” explained Weiss. “ A no weapons [order] doesn’t seem to stop him. Staying away from inns where prostitution activity is occurring doesn’t seem to stop him. Not contacting victims [order], I don’t believe would stop him.”
The matter was further complicated by the fact that, while Chipman claimed to be indigent for the purposes of bail, he had retained private counsel. Mouzis responded that someone else had retained counsel services on his behalf.
In the absence of holding the defendant on bail, Judge Godman was not sure how to rule on the matter.
“I was recently on vacation. I just got back into this department. I don’t think I’m as up to speed on Humphrey as I need to be,” admitted the judge. “If you will just grant me a week to get myself more up to speed, so I feel more comfortable making a ruling on this.”
The matter was put over until April 26. Judge Goodman, who is accustomed to using bail to set the price of freedom, will have to consider the issue through the lens of public safety and whether the court has a compelling interest to keep Chipman in jail.
For at least the next week, Chipman remains in custody.
Ned Meiners is a Legal Studies student at City College San Francisco. Originally from Maine, he currently resides on Bernal Hill in San Francisco.
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