Injunction limits cash bail in L.A. County — for now

A bail bonds office in Los Angeles
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has granted a preliminary injunction barring the city and county from enforcing cash bail requirements for some people who have been arrested but not arraigned.

The practice of enforcing cash bail for those who cannot afford to pay “is a clear, pervasive and serious constitutional violation,” Judge Lawrence Riff wrote in his decision Tuesday.

The decision marks a major development in an ongoing lawsuit that seeks to permanently end cash bail in detention centers and jails operated by the Sheriff’s Department and Los Angeles Police Department.


In the lawsuit filed last fall, six people say they were arrested and spent five days in detention solely because they could not afford bail. While in custody, the lawsuit alleges, they spent time in “dismal” conditions, lost job opportunities and missed visitation opportunities with their children.

The injunction does not cover those arrested on suspicion of serious and violent felonies. It will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. May 24 and remain in place for 60 days — during which time the plaintiffs and defendants will develop an alternative program. If the program is approved by the judge, it would take effect on July 17.

The deaths come as the county faces scrutiny in court for its chronically poor jail conditions and its reliance on cash bail to keep people behind bars.

March 28, 2023

Historically, when Los Angeles police or deputies make an arrest, responding officers figure out bail based on a predetermined schedule that takes into account the type of charge but not the person’s ability to pay. If someone can’t afford bail or a bail bondsman, they’re held in a substation or sent to the county jail.

The practice of demanding cash bail for release creates a “wealth-based detention system,” the plaintiffs said.

The injunction reverts jails back to practices from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that lasted until last summer under an emergency order meant to reduce overcrowding and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Salil Dudani, an attorney working on the lawsuit seeking the permanent injunction, called the ruling “historic” and “important.”


“It’s the first time a court in California has really held a trial on whether money bail actually works or whether it’s actually counterproductive and harmful,” Dudani said in an interview Wednesday.

Cash bail practices, Dudani said, actually increase crime rates and make it less likely that people will show up in court.

One study cited by an expert witness who testified in the case showed that defendants in Kentucky who were detained for their entire pretrial period were 1.3 times more likely to be arrested for new criminal activity within the 24-month period following their release.

“The ruling points out that there’s overwhelming indisputable evidence that secured money bail actually does nothing to protect the public, does nothing to ensure people appear in court, and perversely, it has the opposite outcomes,” Dudani said.

The Supreme Court ruling is a victory for criminal justice reformers, coming four months after California voters refused to end cash bail at the ballot box.

March 25, 2021

In his opinion, Riff characterized the constitutional harm that cash bail presents to the plaintiffs as “extreme.”

“It is pervasive in that each year it likely affects tens of thousands of impoverished persons detained solely because they are poor,” he wrote.


The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department said it was aware of the preliminary injunction and would comply with any court-ordered bail schedule.

“The county is also working with the court and other stakeholders to explore ways to reduce the number of people held before arraignment because they can’t afford bail and to provide the sheriff greater release options to safely reduce the jail population, while always prioritizing public safety,” the department said in a statement late Wednesday.