By Ned Meiners
SACRAMENTO, CA – When Cassandra Pajibo arrived at her bail hearing in Sacramento County Superior Court on Monday morning her bail was set at $50,000—when the hearing was over, she was held without bail and no chance of being released to await trial out of custody.
The judge, Michael Bowman, spoke at length on In re Humphrey, a recent California Supreme Court decision which ruled that courts must take into account a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail. While the decision means fewer defendants will be held in jail due to exorbitant bail amounts, it could lead to more individuals who are deemed a threat to public safety being held without bail.
Defendant Pajibo, a Natomas High School Graduate and Sierra College student, is charged with assault with a deadly weapon, stemming from an incident involving a man she was living with and her mother.
Pajibo had been behaving erratically, so the individual she was staying with called the defendant’s mother and asked her to come to their home. When Pajibo emerged from her room to confront them both, she was holding a knife and a can of pepper spray.
Allegedly, Pajibo then threatened to kill her mother and engaged in an altercation with the male victim. According to the prosecution she also sprayed both of them with pepper spray.
“They both expressed significant fear of the defendant; both said they were terrified of the defendant,” said Deputy District Attorney Laura Weiss.
The defense painted a different story of the events leading up to Pajibo’s arrest.
According to Assistant Public Defender Tatiana Cottam, “Even the police report, if you were to look at it, states that as soon as she is confronted by [the male victim], she drops the knife. Once he has tackled her and has her on the ground, that is when she utilizes the pepper spray.”
The defense noted that the male victim weighs approximately 210 pounds, while Pajibo weighs barely more than 100. Given the discrepancy in size, and the absence of any history of violence or criminal behavior on the part of the defendant, the defense requested that Pajibo be released without bail while awaiting trial.
At the start of hearing, Judge Bowman warned that there could be consequences to making a motion for the defendant’s release, noting, “I would caution you Humphrey is a double-edged sword…this $50,000 can go to no bail very easily on this type of charge.”
In March, the California Supreme Court issued a decision on In re Humphrey, which stated that California’s cash bail system violated due process and equal protection clauses in the California State Constitution. This makes setting bail at levels a defendant cannot possibly pay, in practice assuring pretrial detention, unconstitutional.
Judge Bowman signaled his approval of this aspect of the Humphrey decision.
“It’s a whole new world with Humphrey, and I agree with it in some ways. I think it’s disingenuous to simply keep bail high because someone is potentially not safe in the community. Simply because somebody has means and is potentially able to come up with $50,000 or $5,000 doesn’t make them any safer, the judge said.
However, the decision declares the State may still have a compelling interest in pretrial detention. According to Humphrey, “Pretrial detention should be reserved for those who otherwise cannot be relied upon to make court appearances or who pose a risk to public or victim safety.”
It is this aspect of the decision that Judge Bowman considered Monday.
“What I’m focusing on is public safety. She clearly, in my mind, is not a flight risk. She has no record. She has ties to Sacramento.” Explained Bowman. “Under Humphrey, I can’t just set bail that’s high, because there’s no correlation between cash bail and safety, so the court is left with determining whether the defendant is a danger to the public.”
In the absence of the ability to set bail, the court interpreted the decision to release the defendant in a completely binary manner. In the words of Judge Bowman, “I will make it no bail or I will release her.”
When the defense countered that other conditions of release could be utilized, such as a stay away order from both the victims, the judge immediately dismissed them as insufficient.
Ultimately, it was up to the prosecution to present clear and convincing evidence that the defendant was a threat to the public or the victim’ safety. Judge Bowman found the evidence compelling and Pajibo’s bail, which had been $50,000, was revoked entirely.
As a justification, the judge reiterated that the defendant had brandished a knife in the confrontation and he felt the victims had a legitimate fear of reprisal.
“She’s made these threats and the victims, at least, believe they could be carried out,” said Judge Bowman.
Given that her client had no possibility of release before trial, defense attorney Cottam moved for a preliminary hearing at the soonest date possible, May 18.
The judge granted her request, while condemning Pajibo’s actions.
“What I have now is two victims expressing extreme fear of violence. I see that your client is otherwise a good person and has done quite well in her life, but this event is concerning,” the judge said.
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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