Once again, the California Legislature has passed a public safety disaster under the misguided guise of criminal justice reform. Senate Bill 10 would eliminate cash bail in California, but that’s not all.
Remember when Proposition 47 reduced many felonies to misdemeanors, including commercial burglary and theft of a firearm? This bill — currently on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk — mandates that nearly all those arrested for misdemeanors who make their way to jail be released within 12 hours, even those arrested for failing to appear in court.
The bail system in California admittedly needs attention. Bail — a constitutional right that is only intended to secure appearance in court rather than as punishment — is too high in most cases and applied with little regard to a defendant’s financial situation.
Those issues need to be addressed, and risk assessment definitely has a place, but the outright elimination of cash bail is foolish. In fact, in rare agreement, law enforcement groups, the ACLU and the NAACP are all opposed to this bill. But the Legislature is undeterred.
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Currently in Sacramento County there are more than 59,000 outstanding warrants for defendants who have failed to fulfill their legal obligations. Law enforcement agencies seldom have the opportunity to look for them and drag them to court. On the contrary, the bail industry has a very high success rate in getting their clients to court because they or their families have a personal stake. If they fail to appear, the bondsman will find them and return them to court. Notably, this occurs without any cost to taxpayers or any burden on law enforcement or the court.
If the governor signs SB 10, warrants for failing to appear for court will skyrocket, and California will continue its descent from accountability for criminality. This bill is just another in a long series of stay-out-of-jail and early release programs, and will not accomplish its purported goals.
We can expect more defendants who are immediately released to choose not to show up for court, which means that those with a propensity for criminal behavior will be able to practice their trade unimpeded. This means yet more crime and more victims. As usual, when the Legislature substitutes its judgment for those of the experts on public safety, it is the rest of us who are forced to pay the price.
Further, like most criminal justice reforms during recent legislative sessions, SB 10 will require significant new spending to develop oversight, metrics and supervised release programs. This money does not exist in a vacuum; it will have to be taken from other programs and services.
I strongly urge Gov. Brown to veto this bill, and instead develop a program that doesn’t push public safety aside, but rather balances it with the rights of the accused in a fair, safe way.