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Judicial group urges end to cash bail for criminal defendants

A deputy prepares a prisoner for booking at the Fresno jail.
(Gary Kazanjian / For The Times)

California’s judiciary recommended Tuesday that money bail for criminal defendants be replaced with risk assessment and supervision.

A group of 11 judges and one court executive appointed to study the issue last year by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said the current system of requiring suspects to post bail to obtain their freedom prior to trial compromises public safety.

Release should depend on an individual’s likelihood to commit new crimes, not on his or her financial resources, the group’s report said.

“If adopted, the reforms envisioned in these recommendations will make major and dramatic changes to California’s criminal justice system,” the report said.

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Pretrial assessment would gather information about each defendant’s potential risk to the public and give judges more tools to supervise released defendants, including drug testing, home confinement and text reminders about future court dates, the report said.

Cantil-Sakauye, who previously called for bail reform, said she endorsed the recommendations. They are likely to serve as a framework for a new law expected to be passed and signed next year.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Brian J. Back, a co-chair of the group, said requiring defendants to post money bail unfairly punishes the poor.

“Thousands of Californians who pose no risk to the public are held in jail before trial, while others charged with serious or violent offenses may pose a high risk and can buy their freedom simply by bailing out,” Back said.

The report said judges should have the final say on whether to release a defendant and the authority to require dangerous suspects to remain in jail prior to trial.

About two-thirds of California’s jail population — or nearly 48,000 people — have not yet been sentenced, according to the Board of State and Community Corrections’ annual Jail Profile Survey.

That number includes both people who are eligible for release but have not posted bail and those who are ineligible for release.

California’s 58 counties use different bail schedules, and bail amounts can differ widely from county to county.

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Bail for defendants accused of residential burglary ranges from $30,000 in Fresno County to $100,000 in San Francisco.

Cantil-Sakauye will present the report to the Judicial Council, the policymaking body for the court system, next month.

Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) who have authored legislation to end money bail, praised Tuesday’s report.

Their bill, which reflects the views of judicial leaders, was passed by the Senate in May and will be considered by the Assembly in January.

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Bonta noted Tuesday’s report endorsed “the overwhelming belief that wealth-based justice is not justice at all.”

“For too long,” Bonta said, “California has linked liberty with personal wealth.”

maura.dolan@latimes.com

Twitter: @mauradolan

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UPDATES:

1:15 p.m.: This article was updated with reaction from legislators.

This article was originally published at noon.


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