SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said he won't defend the city's bail system in a federal lawsuit, calling it unconstitutional.
"This two-tiered system of pretrial justice does not serve the interests of the government or the public, and unfairly discriminates against the poor," Herrera said in an answer to the lawsuit Tuesday. "It transforms money bail from its limited purpose in securing the appearance of the accused at trial into an all-purpose denial of liberty for the indigent. The sheriff is required to enforce the state's law, and she will, unless and until its unconstitutionality is established in the courts. But she is not required to defend it, and she will not."
Herrera's office represents San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, a defendant in a lawsuit brought by two women arrested in October 2015. Riana Buffin, 19, was arrested on suspicion of grand theft and Crystal Patterson, 29, on suspicion of assault.
Both were released without charges after spending several days behind bars because neither could afford bail: Buffin's bond was set at $30,000, Patterson's at $150,000.
In October, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled that the women could pursue 14th Amendment claims against Hennessy, who acts on behalf of the state when enforcing California's bail laws.
In a statement Tuesday, Herrera reinforced his view that the California's monetary bail system allows affluent defendants to buy their freedom while unconstitutionally criminalizing poverty by keeping poor arrestees behind bars.
"That creates a two-tiered system: one for the those with money and another for those without. It doesn't make anybody safer. It's not right, and it's not in keeping with our Constitution. It's time for it to stop," Herrera said.
"Keeping people locked up for no reason other than they can't afford to post bail can have far-reaching consequences," Herrera continued. "People lose their jobs and their homes. Families fall apart. Taxpayers shoulder the cost of jailing people who don't need to be there. In other words, the current bail system is not just unconstitutional, it's bad public policy."
He added, "To be clear, dangerous people who pose a risk to the community need to remain incarcerated. But how much money someone has isn't a measure of whether they pose a threat."
San Francisco's Public Defender Jeff Adachi praised Herrera's decision not to defend against the lawsuit.
"The practice of jailing the poor and people of color simply because they cannot afford bail is indefensible and violates the presumption of innocence and our country's commitment to equal justice for all," Adachi said.
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