Los Angeles Judges Still Keeping People in Jail Pretrial Despite Court-Mandated ‘Humphrey’ Case, Groups Charge in Report

By The Vanguard Staff

LOS ANGELES, CA – Los Angeles judges are “continuing to keep people detained pretrial on unaffordable cash bail despite In re Humphrey case,” charged a new UCLA Law Pretrial Justice Clinic and La Defensa report this week.

The report was created by students in the PreTrial Justice Clinic at UCLA School of Law in October 2023, who observed court proceedings in two courthouses in LA County—Airport Courthouse and Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center [CCB]—as volunteers for La Defensa’s Court Watch Los Angeles Program.

The report, in collaboration with La Defensa’s judicial accountability team, found “disturbing patterns of injustice in Los Angeles County courts,” according to a statement released this week by La Defensa and UCLA’s clinic.

“Findings from the report indicate that LA County judges are not equitably implementing pretrial release protocols. Instead, they are ordering cash bail in 61 percent of felony cases and set bail at a shockingly high median amount of $100,000,” the report statement notes.

“Even more troubling is the racial inequity inherent in the proceedings observed…Black and Latine individuals accounted for three-quarters of individuals whose cases came before the courts, and that Latine individuals had the lowest rates of own recognizance release…despite judges being mandated by the California Supreme Court in In re Humphrey to consider a person’s ability to pay bail, the judges observed made an ability to pay analysis in only 23 percent of cases,” the observers noted.

The report statement argued it is not a surprise, as “California locks up a higher percentage of its people than almost any democracy on earth, with more than 199,000 residents locked up in its prisons, jails, youth detention centers, and psychiatric facilities.

“Nor is it a surprise,” the statement added, “that Los Angeles County operates the largest jail system in the country. Findings from the report also reveal the dehumanizing courtroom operations that perpetuate unjust outcomes throughout the entire legal process.

“It is impossible to miss the human cage in the right corner of (the courtroom) which is as tall as the ceiling and covered in metal wire and glass windows. One court watcher described the cage as ‘sad and dehumanizing.’ The people in the cage are chained, surrounded by officers, and speak to those outside the cage through tiny slits.

“The bailiffs in the courtroom refer to them only by their number and push them into the cage while they wait for their case to be called. One of the most horrific aspects of the cage is the lack of privacy. Defense attorneys stand outside the cage and whisper closely to their clients through plexiglass or a plastic sheet when trying to conduct an intake interview. The District Attorney sits only a few feet away, making it imperative that accused individuals do not speak too loudly about their case,” reads part of the report.

Anjali Narula, a 3rd year law student, UCLA School of Law, said, “Court watching in LA County made me realize that judges have very little incentive to actually follow the law. I watched judges break the law every day, do prosecutors’ jobs for them, and churn through cases like they were robots on a conveyor belt.

“The impact on communities of color from these casual decisions to detain people pretrial is one of the worst injustices I have seen in my life. I believe that our criminal justice system could look significantly different if everyone witnessed the cavalier violence of a criminal courtroom at least once in their lifetime, because community observers would be motivated into action by witnessing these gross wrongs.”

Bryanna Siguenza, Judicial Accountability Lead, La Defensa, noted, “As someone who observes LA County court rooms regularly, and co-leads La Defensa’s Court Watch program, the findings of this report are in alignment with my experience observing courtrooms across the County. I have been especially angered by what I’ve witnessed in the downtown Criminal Court Building (CCB).

“Court actors such as bailiffs and judges are often hostile to members of the public observing, even though these proceedings are mandated by law to be public proceedings; what’s more, we often witness the gross misapplication of legal standards that lead to Black and Latine individuals being unfairly subjected to stifling cash bail. These injustices must end, and court watching is a key part of the solution. We will remain in the courts as steadfast observers as we also fight for ongoing policy change.”

Alicia Virani, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation Director, Criminal Justice Program, UCLA School of Law and professor of the Pretrial Justice Clinic, said, “What our law students observed during the month of October was quite troubling. For the majority of cases observed, judges failed to cite the appropriate legal standards, set bail well above individuals’ ability to pay, and detained the majority of people pretrial.

“These were not one-off occurrences, but a pattern found by each court watcher who engaged in this project. Our law student court watchers diligently documented proceedings that bring to light the inequities and inhumanity that passes for justice in this country.”

Titilayọ Rasaki, Policy and Campaigns Strategist, La Defensa, argued, “The shortcomings UCLA students observed in court rooms throughout October point to the deep and ever-present need for judicial accountability. Sadly, the community members who had their pretrial release status decided in the courtrooms observed had no real recourse if they wished to contest unjust pretrial incarceration.

“Instead, they were forced to fight their case from inside of LA County’s horrendous jail system, where they were vulnerable to losing housing, employment, and access to family. These unjust circumstances cause many individuals to accept a plea deal out of desperation to return home, but this often irreparably harms their long-term legal standing in the community.

“To remedy this injustice, alongside our court observation work, we are committed to advocating for policy change to ensure that we protect the presumption of pretrial release and innocence.”

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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