Capitol Alert

Is California’s bail system ‘fair to all?’ state chief justice asks

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye returns lawmakers applause as she is escorted into the Assembly to deliver her annual State of the Judiciary address last year.
California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye returns lawmakers applause as she is escorted into the Assembly to deliver her annual State of the Judiciary address last year. AP

A year after eliminating court fees for motorists trying to contest a traffic ticket, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye is launching an examination into whether the state’s practice of detaining people on bail unfairly penalizes the poor.

Cantil-Sakauye said the courts, along with Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration and the Democratic-dominated Legislature, are looking at alternatives after studies showed that in some cases so-called pretrial detention may increase recidivism for certain types of offenders. In her annual address to lawmakers this week, and in an interview with The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board on Thursday, she said supervised release may be as effective as bail.

“It’s going to be a sea change in how we think about retaining people in custody,” Cantil-Sakauye told the board. “I don’t see this as a potential and total elimination of bail, but I think it’s going to be a more thoughtful process.”

She said a dozen courts currently have pretrial release programs. She envisions the state developing a multi-page questionnaire that a judge would rely on when reviewing the case of the accused to determine whether they need to have bail set. She recalled using a similar system years ago as a trial court judge.

“I would look through it myself and say, ‘Oh, they have a job,’” she recalled. “‘They have children. They have been here for a long time. What’s the charge. Where are we?’”

Cantil-Sakauye has assigned a deputy to a national task force studying fines, fees, and bail. Last year, she led a successful effort to change the court’s rules allowing people with traffic tickets to appear in court without paying up front.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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