As Bail Reform Moves Forward in California, Defendant Who Advanced It Remains Incarcerated
In California, as elsewhere in the nation, there’s a growing consensus that cash bail unfairly penalizes poor defendants, forcing them to sit in jail for months or even years pre-trial, while wealthier defendants walk free. Last year, California nearly ended cash bail after a bill, SB 10, passed the State Senate and then stalled out in […]
Max Rivlin-Nadler Mar 01, 2018
In California, as elsewhere in the nation, there’s a growing consensus that cash bail unfairly penalizes poor defendants, forcing them to sit in jail for months or even years pre-trial, while wealthier defendants walk free.
Last year, California nearly ended cash bail after a bill, SB 10, passed the State Senate and then stalled out in the Assembly over cost concerns this past summer. As the state’s legislative season began anew in January, legislators were determined to enact SB 10, buoyed by the state’s Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye recommending that cash bail be eliminated as soon as possible in a report released last fall.
In late January, meanwhile, a state appeals court ruled that defendants are entitled to hearings to determine their ability to pay their bail; if they cannot afford it, they must be offered alternative forms of bail, such as electronic monitoring and community supervision.
The decision centered on a San Francisco retiree, Kenneth Humphrey, who allegedly stole $5 and a bottle of cologne and was held on $350,000 bail. It became judicial precedent statewide on February 20, when California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra declined to appeal to the state’s supreme court, announcing, “It’s time for bail reform now.”
On the day of Becerra’s announcement, Dulce Saavedra, a 24-year-old organizer with the youth organizing group Resilience OC, stood in front of the Orange County courthouse in Santa Ana, handing out flyers informing potential defendants and defense attorneys of their rights following the Humphrey decision. It was part of a day of action by reform groups across the state, who held simultaneous rallies and handed out flyers outside nine county courthouses.
“There’s no standardization when it comes to bail here,” Saavedra, told The Appeal. “You can get no bail set, or you can have your house, your mortgage, your whole life taken from you.” She stressed the need to not only eliminate cash bail, but to make sure it isn’t replaced with tools that may discriminate against people of color, like risk assessments, which attempt to predict how likely a defendant is to commit a new crime or fail to return to court. “Risk assessments are based on really racist criteria,” Saavedra said, “like … how much money do you make? do you have a home? do you own a home?”
As the end of cash bail in California draws nearer, Raj Jayadev, founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug, a community organizing and advocacy group based out of San José, which helped organize the statewide rallies last Tuesday, stressed that it’s up to community groups and advocates like Saavedra to push for the changes they want.
“We finally got to a place where this might happen,” Jayadev said, “and if we blow it now, if we get stuck with a bill that doesn’t reflect what we’ve been pushing for this entire time, then what was it all for? It’s going to be people in the courthouses holding prosecutors and judges accountable that make change happen, making sure they follow through, because they’re not just going to do it themselves.”
So advocates who had been flyering outside the Orange County courthouse sat in on the afternoon’s criminal arraignments, using surveys that had been distributed statewide to write down bail amounts that were being offered and to see if defense attorneys were requesting bail hearings (both criminal cases that afternoon were dismissed).
In places like Orange County, where the prosecutor’s office has a long history of misconduct, court-watching and community accountability are all the more important.