LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Tuesday blocked the city and county of Los Angeles from demanding cash bail from arrestees who haven't yet been arraigned.
The decision, sure to send shockwaves through the world of law enforcement, comes in the form of a preliminary injunction, and effectively bumps Los Angeles back to its 2020 Covid-era policy of "zero cash bail," in which those arrested for low-level crimes were released without bail while they waited to be arraigned by a judge, who would then set a cash bail amount.
"The plaintiffs have shown that these defendants' conduct in enforcing the secured money bail schedules against poor people who are detained in jail solely for the reason of their poverty is a clear, pervasive and serious constitutional violation," Judge Lawrence Riff wrote in a 64-page ruling. "The parties estimate they will be ready for a trial on the merits in about 12 months. Between now and then, tens of thousands of persons will be arrested by the LASD and LAPD and jailed under the extant bail schedules solely because they are too poor to pay the scheduled money bail.
"It would be an abuse of the court's discretion not to enter" a preliminary injunction, he added.
The injunction is set to take effect on May 24th at 12:01 a.m. It does not apply to those arrested for violent felonies or certain serious misdemeanors, such as domestic violence or stalking, or to those who have an open, unresolved case or are the subject of an arrest warrant. Those rearrested while out on zero bail will be held under the old cash bail schedule.
"It’s a great day, not just for our clients but for Los Angeles," said one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, Salil Dudani. "The judge explained in detail not only that it’s unconstitutional to put someone in a jail cell just because they don’t have a certain amount of money in their bank account, but also that it’s bad for public safety and it harms everyone."
The long-awaited decision comes after a marathon hearing that took place, on and off, over the course of nearly two months and saw live testimony.
The putative class action, Urquidi vs. Los Angeles, was filed by a pair of nonprofit public interest law firms this past November on behalf of six people who had recently been jailed and who couldn't afford to pay their pre-arraignment bail. Bail is set according to a predetermined formula called a bail schedule, and determines whether or not an arrestee is detained prior to being arraigned — typically the first time the accused goes before a judge or gets access to a public defender. Upon arraignment, the judge sets a new bail amount, and according to a 2021 California Supreme Court decision, that judge must take into account the arrestee's financial means when setting the bail amount.
The plaintiffs say pre-arraignment cash bail violates the spirit of the Supreme Court decision and discriminates against those who can't pay. They also argue that those who are jailed for the 3-5 days while they await arraignment are harmed in myriad of ways — they miss work days, stop taking medication and aren't able to care for sick family members.
Curiously, the defendant city and county were reluctant to argue the merits of cash bail, offering the most tepid of defenses to the system. That's most likely a reflection of the elected officials they work for, most of whom are liberal Democrats who support criminal justice reform. Most law enforcement officials, meanwhile, support the use of cash bail.