The push to eliminate money bail in California overcame a significant hurdle on Monday, despite the defection of former allies that said a compromise measure would unjustly expand the number of suspects jailed while awaiting trial.
By a vote of 41-27, Senate Bill 10 narrowly passed the Assembly, where an earlier version of the plan fell short last year. It must now return to the Senate for final approval before heading to Gov. Jerry Brown.
The revised proposal, which goes further than any other jurisdiction in the country to remove money from the court system, would replace cash bail with a “risk assessment” of an individual and nonmonetary conditions of release. Advocates of abolishing bail contend that too many Californians remain stuck in custody because they cannot afford to bail out, effectively creating an unequal system of justice based on wealth.
“This is a good bill that will end the suffering, the anguish, the pain, the victimization that has come from the current system for those who have been unfairly incarcerated,” Assemblyman Rob Bonta, an Alameda Democrat who carried the bill in the Assembly, said on the floor.
Earlier in the day, the American Civil Liberties Union of California, an original co-sponsor of SB 10 when it was introduced in late 2016, announced its opposition to the latest version of the measure and said it would work to defeat the bill before the end of the legislative session this month.
The ACLU and other organizations, at a Capitol press conference, raised concerns about an expanded process for prosecutors to file for “preventive detention,” blocking the defendant’s release pending a trial, if they believe there are no conditions that would ensure public safety or their appearance in court. The groups argued that suspects will be detained in jail for weeks awaiting a hearing, and that the change gives too much discretion to judges, likely resulting in more people being locked up, not fewer.
They also expressed worries that the tools for evaluating risk would reflect the racial biases against minorities that they say are present throughout the criminal justice system.
“In order to uproot our exploitative system of commercial bail, California from the beginning needs to commit itself to due process and racial justice,” Abdi Soltani, director of the ACLU of Northern California affiliate, said.
Raj Jayadev, co-founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug, another former co-sponsor of the bill that dropped its support, called SB 10 a “bait-and-switch” that would only worsen those disparities.
“They took our rallying cry of ending money bail and used it against us to further threaten and criminalize and jail our loved ones,” he said.
Over the course of 80 minutes of debate on the Assembly floor, many of the Democrats who ultimately voted for SB 10 expressed their dissatisfaction with the changes, but said they would vote for the bill because it was better than doing nothing.
“Justice is a journey and SB 10 is a step on that path,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said. “This bill does not provide complete economic justice, but it shows that we are bending in that direction.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated with the Assembly vote at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 20, 2018.