Starting October 1, 2019, the phrase “bail me out” will have less meaning in California criminal courts. California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a new law that eliminates cash bail requirements for individuals charged with a crime. It is the first state to completely eliminate bail money.
The California Money Bail Reform Act is meant to even the playing field for individuals accused of a crime by taking money out of the equation. We have all seen news reports of wealthy individuals being charged with a crime who easily post the bail requirements and are left to roam free until their court date (Ethan Couch, the “affluenza teen” comes to mind). Meanwhile, those without financial resources are abandoned in jail until, and if, they can scrape up enough money for their release, whether through family and friends, or a bail bondsman.
The new system will focus on risk assessment rather than cash flow. Pretrial assessment services will be formed, which could be done utilizing court employees or by contracting with an outside agency. This group will lump offenders into three categories: high risk, medium risk and low risk. High risk is defined as someone who is “categorized as having a significant level of risk failure to appear in court as required or risk to public safety due to the commission of a new criminal offense while released on the current criminal offense.” Thankfully, these individuals will not be released.
Medium risk individuals are those who have only a moderate level of risk, and low risk is reserved for those with a “minimal level” of risk, with respect to attending court hearings and public safety. Low risk individuals must be released, while a medium risk person may be released or held in detention. Review of the low and medium risk cases must be completed within 24 hours of booking, which can be extended to a maximum of 36 hours if good cause is demonstrated.
The review itself is comprised of three main parts: 1) risk score/level, calculated by using a “validated risk assessment instrument;” 2) the current criminal charge, and the person’s criminal history, which includes reviewing any failures to appear in court for the last three years; and 3) any additional information that addresses the risk to society or failing to appear in court. An attempt to contact the victim of the crime will be made as well.
While there are exceptions, if you are charged with a misdemeanor, you “shall be released from custody without a risk assessment…within 12 hours of booking.” Being released requires you to sign an agreement to appear as ordered by the court, to remain in the state, to waive extradition, obey laws and orders, and acknowledgment that you are aware of the consequences of violation of the agreement.
Time will tell if the system will truly improve the equity between the haves and the have nots in the state of California. After all, in the words of the late Notorious B.I.G., “mo money, mo problems.”