A California Supreme Court ruling will dramatically change the state’s cash bail system by stating that some defendants may no longer be detained just because they cannot afford to post bail.
“The common practice of conditioning freedom solely on whether an arrestee can afford bail is unconstitutional,” Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar wrote in the court’s unanimous opinion Thursday.
“Other conditions of release — such as electronic monitoring, regular check-ins with a pretrial case manager, community housing or shelter, and drug and alcohol treatment” are often enough, the ruling says. “The court must consider the arrestee’s ability to pay the stated amount of bail — and may not effectively detain the arrestee ‘solely because’ ” he or she can’t post it.
“When people can obtain their release, they almost always do so,” the ruling states. “The disadvantages to remaining incarcerated pending resolution of criminal charges are immense and profound.”
Cuéllar added that, “It is one thing to decide that a person should be charged with a crime, but quite another to determine, under our constitutional system, that the person merits detention pending trial on that charge.”
California Public Defenders Association President Jennifer Friedman said in a statement that the court “wrongly concluded in deciding issues of release that they may presume the person committed the charged offense and also failed to clearly describe the limited category of individuals who may be detained.”
She said she hopes the decision will be “a major sea change, and that no one will be held in custody unless it has been shown by clear and convincing evidence there are no alternatives that will ensure the person returns to court.”
The decision comes months after 56% of California voters said they were against Proposition 25, a ballot measure aimed at eliminating cash bail.