At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, California recognized that it needed to reduce jail populations in order to minimize the spread of Covid-19 among inmates. They did this in a number of ways, including releasing inmates early and creating a zero bail rule that allowed for most suspects to be released as long as they were not accused of violent or serious offenses. The move was a controversial one, but widely accepted as prudent given the risk of a disease outbreak among jail inmates. Now the California Judicial Council has announced that the $0 emergency bail schedule will expire on June 20.
How Zero Bail Works
The emergency bail schedule has still resulted in people being charged with crimes. The difference with the $0 bail system is that when police would normally arrest someone, they instead either issue a misdemeanor citation on the spot, or arrest and process a suspect and then issue a citation. These citations are still legally binding and require a suspect to appear in court (or have an attorney appear on their behalf). Those charged with serious felonies or violent crimes are still arrested and placed in jail.
Critics were quick to point out that criminals have been released back onto the streets -and in some cases, suspects released with a citation have been arrested again for another crime only hours later. On the other hand, many others pointed out that there was no actual increase in crime while the zero bail order has been in place and that prosecutors still have the discretion to request a judge to implement bail for individual offenders.
As far as reducing the threat of Covid-19, the program has largely beend a success. The elimination of bail for most offenses and the early release of many inmates together have resulted in a 30% reduction of jail populations statewide.
Ending the Emergency Bail Schedule
While the coronavirus pandemic is still not over, California is slowly and carefully reopening -and that applies to the justice system as well. On June 10, the California Judicial Council voted 17-2 to allow the emergency $0 bail order to expire ten days later on June 20. They recognized that the risks to jail inmates may vary from county to county and ruled that individual counties may choose to extend the zero bail system in their own jurisdictions. That means San Diego has until June 20th to decide to extend the program or anyone accused of a misdemeanor or felony crime will once again be arrested and placed in jail until their arraignment.
More Speedy Arraignments
The good news is that when the state instituted the zero bail rule, it also extended the deadline for arraignments from 3 business days to 7 business days. Now this rule is also set to expire, so those who are put in jail will at least be able to seek reduced bail or to be released on their own recognizance much sooner. On the downside, the emergency deadlines for a speedy trial will not expire, so those who cannot pay bail and are not released on their own recognizance may have to wait a lengthy period for a trial if they do not negotiate a plea bargain.
No Cash Bail Reform
In a way, the zero bail order has played an unexpected role in the November election. That’s because voters will be asked to vote on whether or not to eliminate the state’s bail system. The emergency bail schedule put into place to eliminate the threat of coronavirus has essentially operated as a test case for the release of suspect charged with non-violent and non-serious crimes. While the cash free bail system will work differently since even those accused of violent crimes and serious felonies will not be able to post bail, which they have been able to do during the last few months, the release of most misdemeanor offenders is similar to how the proposed system will operate.
As such, it’s likely that proponents of the system will use statistics showing no increase of criminal activity while the zero bail was in order, while those who oppose it will argue that this was because fewer people were out during the pandemic.
Although opponents of zero bail like to point out crimes committed by defendants released pending trial, those instances are actually statistically very minor. The evidence shows that most individuals released pre-trial are not a threat to public safety with a few exceptions. Jailing people before trial is just another punishment against poor people which falls disproportionately on minorities. Monitoring through GPS and alcohol monitoring devices has been shown to be very effective at protecting public safety. It is also hugely expensive to incarcerate people before trial and leads to miscarriages of justice of innocent people pleading guilty to get out of jail.
That being said, many proponents for bail reform are also against the proposed law as well because the it would allow for some suspects to be detained indefinitely if they are not approved for pretrial release. This could even result in larger populations in jail, many of whom would be found innocent in trial, but may still plead guilty in order to secure their release.
If you have any questions about the elimination of the emergency bail system and how it may affect you, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss.
Image by Ichigo121212