San Francisco Reaches Settlement on Money Bail System

(CN)  – The city of San Francisco ended its stalemate Friday with pretrial detainees fighting the money bail system in the city.

The eleventh-hour agreement announced late in the day comes after the parties met with Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero for mediation talks earlier this week.

According to the settlement, the city’s Own Recognizance Project will perform a public safety assessment on each arrestee within eight hours of booking.

Judges will have 18 hours to make a decision on whether or not to release the person. If no decision is made by then, the arrestee will either be released or detained based on the assessment. A law enforcement officer can request to extend that time by 12 hours.

These terms will not apply to defendants charged with violent felonies. Bail is still available to arrestees charged with these types of crimes, for now.

“I’ve worked in and around the county jails for more than four decades,” said Sheriff Vicki Hennessy in a statement. “People with means pay their bail and leave jail pre-arraignment while others who don’t have the money may remain incarcerated. While we have a robust pretrial risk assessment and release program, the Superior Court bail schedule created an unequal playing field for some pretrial releases. With this settlement, the Sheriff will no longer release people according to the court’s bail schedule.”

U.S. District Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ordered the parties back to the bargaining table on Aug. 23, after attorneys representing a proposed class of indigent arrestees said that five months of prior talks were unsuccessful.

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, which enforces the bail schedule set by the court, said it couldn’t agree to anything without the court’s assent. Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the court had previously consented to a meeting days before the Aug. 23 meeting, then pulled out at the last minute.

The parties were under tremendous pressure to reach a settlement before Gonzalez made good on her vow to “bang the hammer” and possibly eliminate the bail schedule altogether with no alternative in place, which would leave more people to languish behind bars for up to 72 hours before seeing a judge.

The underlying lawsuit challenging San Francisco’s bail schedule was filed back in 2015 by two women who were arrested and could not afford their bail. They claimed the arbitrary bail amounts demanded by the court’s bail schedule unfairly penalizes the poor.

Since then, the California Legislature passed Senate Bill 10, which effectively outlaws money bail statewide in favor of pretrial risk assessments. A referendum seeking to overturn that law will be put to voters in November 2020.

Depending on the outcome of the referendum, the law requires counties to begin conducting pretrial risk assessments of all arrestees and recommend them either for detention, release on their own recognizance or release with conditions.

Gonzalez ruled the bail schedule unconstitutional in March 2019, but delayed barring the sheriff from enforcing it until the parties could come up with the least restrictive way of keeping the public safe and ensuring defendants return to court.

The agreement still requires approval from Gonzalez and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera touted the parties’ joint solution in a statement accompanying the settlement notice.

“Justice is better served when decisions are based on the facts, not on the size of someone’s bank account,” he said. “Our proposal safeguards civil liberties by ensuring low-level cases are assessed quickly, and it protects public safety by guaranteeing no one accused of a serious or violent crime is released without judicial review.”

%d bloggers like this: