California High Court to Review Money Bail System

(CN) – The California Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of the state’s money bail system, granting review late Wednesday to the case of Kenneth Humphrey, whose $350,000 bail led to an appellate court ruling requiring judges to consider a person’s ability to pay when setting bail.

Humphrey, accused of robbing his 79-year-old disabled neighbor of $7 and a bottle of cologne last year, has been out of jail awaiting trial since San Francisco Judge Brendan Conroy released him into a residential recovery facility earlier this month.

A 3-0 appellate court had ordered a new bail hearing for the 64-year-old Humphrey in January, finding his initial $600,000 bail and later $350,000 reduction unconstitutional.

“[T]he trial court erred in setting bail at $350,000 without inquiring into and making findings
regarding petitioner’s ability to pay and alternatives to money bail and, if petitioner’s financial resources would be insufficient and the order would result in his pretrial detention, making the findings necessary for a valid order of detention,” Justice J. Anthony Kline wrote for the court. “Petitioner is entitled to a new bail hearing at which he is afforded the opportunity to provide evidence and argument, and the court considers his financial resources and other relevant circumstances, as well as alternatives to money bail.”

He added, “A defendant may not be imprisoned solely because he or she is unable to make a payment that would allow a wealthier defendant to avoid imprisonment.”

The high court could very well agree. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has already expressed distaste for money bail saying last year, “I support the conclusion that California’s current pretrial system unnecessarily compromises victim and public safety and agree with the recommendation to replace our current system of money bail with one based on a defendant’s risk to the public.”

In October, the chief’s Pre-trial Detention Reform Workgroup released a report recommending alternatives like electronic monitoring, risk-assessment tools that could dismantle the cash bail system in California.

“The justices have before them a critical decision. It will determine whether poor people remain in jail while those who can afford to post bail go free regardless of public safety concerns,” San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whose office represented Humphrey, said in a statement Wednesday. “The Pretrial Detention Reform Workgroup established by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has already deemed California’s bail system ‘unsafe and unfair’ and in need of replacement. I don’t expect the California Supreme Court will find otherwise.”

San Francisco already uses a tool called Public Safety Assessment, which analyzes eight factors in determining a defendants’ risk to the public, including the violence of the defendant’s current offense, any prior convictions, the defendant’s age and whether the defendant had been previously incarcerated.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón asked the Supreme Court to review Humphrey’s case, arguing that the appellate court’s ruling ties trial judges’ hands on public safety.

“We look forward to litigating the issue and ending money bail in the state of California. We plan to vigorously oppose the San Francisco District Attorney’s argument that the money bail system should continue,” Adachi said. “It will be interesting to see what position George Gascón takes in opposing Humphrey since he has claimed to be a supporter of bail reform in the past.”

The Supreme Court said it will consider whether the appellate court erred in determining that due process and equal protection requires judges to consider a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail, whether a judge must consider public and victim safety and under what circumstances a judge may deny bail in non-capital cases.


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