Jeff Jardine

Will state bail on bail? AB 42 would eliminate bucks for bonds as judge decides who stays, goes

A cell inside one of the maximum security detention units at the Stanislaus County Public Safety Center in Modesto, Calif.
A cell inside one of the maximum security detention units at the Stanislaus County Public Safety Center in Modesto, Calif. Andy Alfaro

You (or someone who looks just like you) have been arrested and hauled down to the county jail to be booked, fingerprinted, your mug shot taken and allowed that all-important phone call.

Whether you use it to phone a bail bond agent directly or have someone else call for you, depending upon the alleged crime you can be free within in a couple of hours – presuming you can raise the 10 percent down.

But Tuesday in Sacramento, state legislators likely will take a step toward joining a number of other states in the nation that have eliminated bail altogether. Assembly Bill 42, authored by Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, goes before the State Assembly’s Committee on Public Safety on Tuesday, where it is expected to move on to the appropriations committee toward a possible floor vote in June.

If passed, those arrested would no longer have to pay monetary bail. A judge would determine whether they would be released on their own recognizance or are too much of a threat to society to go anywhere but a jail cell to await trial.

At that point, the word “bail” would be relegated to reference a part on a fishing reel or getting water out of a leaky boat.

Proponents claim the current bail system, which uses an established bail fee schedule based upon the severity of the crime, unfairly favors those with the financial means to post bail and unfairly punishes the poor, a contention bolstered by the Obama Administration in 2016.

Bail reform went into effect Jan. 1 in New Jersey, where one former police chief in Monday’s Newark Star Ledger newspaper hailed it as a benefit to the community in an op-ed piece. Yet, five days earlier in the same paper, a column by Bill Gallo Jr. detailed how a man was released by a judge following a weapons charge allegedly killed someone three days in what police officials called a failure of the state’s new bail reform law.

The bill follows a trend in Sacramento. AB 109 in 2011 brought realignment, pushing down to the counties the need to house many inmates who otherwise would be in state prisons. Prop. 47 downgraded an number of drug possession felonies to misdemeanors, which also impacts the local jail populations. And last November, voters approved Prop. 57, which increased the chances for parole based upon good behavior while imprisoned. SB 260 allows those who committed crimes as teens to apply for early parole hearings.

Now, AB 42 and its state Senate counterpart, SB 10, would effectively eliminate bail, something law enforcement and the bail bonds industry vehemently oppose.

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson railed at it as victim exploitation by politicians in Sacramento who “want to fix a system that isn’t broken,” he said.

“I stand with the victims of crimes and I oppose anything that stops accountability,” he said. Already, he said, there are far too many warrants issued for failures to appear in court for defendants out on bail or OR’d by judges, he said.

“Do you think they are going to abide by that (court dates without bail money to forfeit)?” he asked.

A judge, he said, could determine that a defendant be fitted with a GPS ankle bracelet at the taxpayers’ expense.

The irony is that some would spend more time in custody than they would if they could simply post bail, said Jeffrey Clayton, who represents the American Bail Coalition, which describes itself as “a non-profit organization that is committed to developing the most efficient means for the pretrial release of criminal defendants by reducing the financial impact on state government and taxpayers, while maximizing public safety.”

“On the front end, it’s how long it will take the state to do an assessment (of whether the inmate deserves to be released),” Clayton said. “It slows the process down. Every county will have to more people – judges, prosecutors and public defenders to argue the assessments).”

And Topo Padilla, president of the Golden State Bail Agents Association, defended his industry as the leverage that forces bailed-out defendants to keep their court dates. California has about 3,200 licensed bail agents and 3,800 more who work in clerical positions at the bond agencies.

“Some agents will say they are being forced to fight for their jobs,” he said. “Screw that. Nobody cares about our jobs. It’s about having safer communities. (Defendants) need to be held accountable and the best way to ensure that is for them to have a skin in the game. They miss their court days we’re on the hook for the amount of the bail bond. I’m going to come looking for you, hunt you down and return to you to court at no cost to the taxpayers.”

Without the bondsmen and bounty hunters, “nobody is going to go get ‘em,” he said.

Padilla said his organization has advocated for years for an overhaul of the bail schedules, which are in many cases exorbitant. But to eliminate it completely?

“People in the jail and in the criminal world must be saying to themselves, ‘Why in the hell are these people advocating for us? They’re just making our lives better as criminals’.”