RANCHO CUCAMONGA (CBSLA/AP) — California will become the first state to eliminate bail for suspects awaiting trial under a bill signed Tuesday by Governor Jerry Brown.
The new law – which will take effect on January 1, 2020 – establishes a new system for determining a defendant’s custody status while they await trial based on an assessment of risk to public safety and probability of missing a court date rather than their ability to pay cash bail.
“Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly,” said Brown.
Brown’s signature gives the state’s Judicial Council broad authority to reshape pretrial detention policies.
Each county will use the council’s framework as a basis to set its own procedures for deciding whom to release before trial, potentially creating a patchwork system based on where a suspect lives.
Most suspects arrested for nonviolent misdemeanors will be released within 12 hours of being booked under the new law. Those facing serious, violent felonies will not be eligible for pretrial release.
The legislation gives officials 24 hours to determine whether other suspects should be released before trial. That time can be extended by 12 hours if necessary.
Some criminal justice reform advocates worry defendants will spend weeks in jail while their lawyers try to prove they deserve to be set free.
Opponents of the legislation say it gives judges too much power. Some worry dangerous people will go free and won’t return for trial.
“When they bail out, they bail out under us, they’re on our watch,” said Shane Fuchs with Bail Connection in Rancho Cucamonga. “So now, they’re gonna be under the law enforcement’s watch — they already have too much going on as it is.[…] I just think it’s gonna make things worse.[…] It’s scary.”
Fuch’s business partner agrees. “No system is perfect, I understand that. Bail — there’s a lot of things that do need to be fixed,” conceded Sonia Teran. “Unfortunately, we were expecting Gov. Brown to veto this reform, and he didn’t.”
Supporters, including the Judicial Council headed by the state Supreme Court’s chief justice, say the change will end the unfair practice of imprisoning people simply because they are poor. Incarceration should instead depend on the risk a defendant poses if they are released, they argue.
Other states such as New Jersey and New Mexico have overhauled their bail systems, although neither state has completely eliminated bail.
The Judicial Council is the policy-making body for California’s courts. It creates rules and procedures to ensure consistency across the state.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)