Group Claims Federal Court Ruling ‘Brings Halt to Sacramento’s Discriminatory Bail System’

By Crescenzo Vellucci Jr.

The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

SACRAMENTO, CA – A national legal nonprofit organization – naming California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones in a lawsuit originally filed in January 2016 – claimed Thursday a “monumental victory” against the discriminatory use of cash bail in the Sacramento County Superior Court system.

Equal Justice Under Law, in “Welchen v. Sacramento,” alleged “Sacramento’s policy of charging exorbitant pretrial bail amounts without accounting for arrestees’ ability to pay” was unconstitutional.

The federal court agreed in a ruling last year and this week U.S. District Court Judge Troy Nunley issued an order finding Sacramento’s bail schedule to be in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Constitution.

“The Court finds that the use of the bail schedule in Sacramento County is unconstitutional,” said Nunley in the order, ordering the parties to file supplemental briefing for injunctive relief in two weeks.

The judge, said EJUL, “enjoined the Sacramento County Sheriff and the Attorney General of California from enforcing the bail schedule or any subsequent pre-arraignment bail schedule that set specific dollar amounts for bail by reference solely to criminal charges, without allowing defendants to modify their bail amounts based on their individual ability to pay, risk of nonappearance, or threat of public safety before trial.”

In short, EJUL maintains “this ruling means that no arrestees in Sacramento will be held in jail because they cannot afford their bail amounts. It also means that Sacramento officials can no longer use their former cash bail policy without making adjustments based on the arrestee’s financial status and other individualized determinations that are far more tailored to the intended purpose of bail, such as flight risk and public safety.”

The long-running case was filed on behalf of Gary Welchen, described by the plaintiff lawyers as “an indigent arrestee who was kept in the county jail solely because he was too poor to pay the amount of money that the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department demanded for his release.”

EJUL Executive Director Phil Telfeyan said, “In Sacramento, arrestees face two different outcomes depending on their wealth status. If Gary had been rich enough to pay $10,000 — like many wealthier people accused of the same offense — he could have walked out of his jail cell immediately under Sacramento County’s pay-for-freedom pretrial justice system… we argue Sacramento operates a wealth-based detention system. Money bail is a price tag on freedom. ” 

The judge agreed with the plaintiff, who said he was held in jail for six days after arrest simply because he could not pay $10,000 – the court noted it “finds Plaintiff’s six-day detention significantly deprived him of his fundamental right to pretrial liberty solely due to his indigence.”

And, the court noted it found the plaintiff’s jail time “significantly deprived him of his fundamental right to pretrial liberty solely due to his indigence” because the county bail policy did not protect the public, ensure a future court appearance by the plaintiff and does not protect “individual constitutional rights because it unnecessarily deprives pretrial liberty.”

EJUL said in a statement “Sacramento’s bail policy resulted in indigent arrestees being held in jail longer solely because they could not afford to pay their bail amounts, while wealthier arrestees charged with the exact same crimes could walk free.”

The group noted “Cash bail systems confine 450,000 Americans on any given day,
simply because they are poor.”

About The Author

Veteran news reporter and editor, including stints at the Sacramento Bee, Woodland Democrat, and Vietnam war correspondent and wire service bureau chief at the State Capitol.

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