Wednesday, January 16, 2019     Volume: 19, Issue: 45

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 7th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 1 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 1

Bail reform key topic in NAACP-chaired community forum


A small group of lawyers and community leaders gathered on Feb. 28 in Santa Maria to discuss the criminal justice system, with particular focus on state Senate Bill 10, the California Money Bail Reform Act. If passed, the legislation would effectively ensure individuals are not kept in jail because they cannot afford bail.

Proponents argue the bill will return to poorer citizens their right to due process, which at times is violated when they are incarcerated before conviction due to their inability to pay bail and other legal fees.

Ron Bobo, center, with the Santa Barbara County Public Defender’s Office, spoke to a small crowd at a community forum in Santa Maria on Feb. 28. The meeting, headed by the Santa Maria, Lompoc, and San Luis Obispo County NAACP, along with Santa Maria’s CAUSE chapter, focussed on bail reform and how the public can get involved to help affect change. Others in the photo from left to right: Mag Nicola, with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office; defense attorney Adrian Andrade; San Luis Obispo County NAACP President Rev. Stephen Vines; and moderator Gina Lagunas. Not pictured: Public Defender Adrienne Harbottle.

Santa Barbara County Public Defender Adrienne Harbottle told the audience assembled at First United Methodist Church that the current system costs more money for California to house people in jail as opposed to pretrial services and compliance programs, which allow courts to monitor people charged with crimes out of custody.

"It's kind of a circular system in keeping the poor, poor," she said. "It's not reducing recidivism, it's not doing anything to stop crimes—all it is is hurting families, people, and their wallets. You can accomplish the same thing without money."

Santa Maria Defense Attorney Adrian Andrade said California should "do away" with the system and that it was "unfair and not workable."

Mag Nicola, chief trial deputy for the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office, noted that much of what is proposed in SB 10 was already in practice in the court system.

"If SB 10 passes exactly the way it is [written], judges will then be able to choose to detain people without bail or release them under some kind of pretrial services program; that is essentially what we have now," Nicola said. "It's just not working as well as it could."

Andrade responded to Nicola by reminding attendees of the importance of "innocent until proven guilty," and said that the current system undermined that core constitutional principle.

"I think the system, at least as I've seen it, really should change completely," Andrade reiterated.

Ron Bobo, another lawyer with the county Public Defender's Office, said a lot of judges based their opinion on keeping someone incarcerated on prior incidents when the person failed to appear.

"We'll have something as minor as driving on a suspended license and then they will be retained in jail," Bobo added, noting that many times subjects remain behind bars until their court date.

San Luis Obispo County NAACP President Rev. Stephen Vines explained that an incarcerated person can suffer irreparable psychological damage after just four days in custody. It was a fact recognized by the DA's Office's Nicola, who said he had learned about the issue in seminars promoting pretrial service.

However, Nicola pointed to statistics kept by his office that showed a 60 percent increase in failures to appear in court from 2014 to 2017.

"Those only happened on sight releases or people released on their own recognizance," he said. "It's not justification for keeping more people in jail, but shows you statistics can vary from region to region. And while other [states] have had success with different types of bail reform, that doesn't mean it's the best model for California."

Bobo argued that special programs would help people return to court and that, if implemented, the DA's Office would see reduction in failures to appear rather than increases. He said there are ways courts and law enforcement can monitor individuals that would create circumstances for conditional releases, rather than the "pay bail or stay in jail" formula of past decades.

"Everyone has cellphones now, even the homeless. You can call them and they will show up to court," he said. "They can be contacted."

Andrade said Northern Santa Barbara County saw tremendous population growth in the same span of years Nicola referenced for the failures to appear and that the boom brought with it more cases being filed. "It was rare that I had a client that did not show up, because we would call [the day and week before their court date]."

According to Andrade, the only time his clients did not show up for their scheduled appearances was due to fears of deportation by immigration agents.

"That's the reality that exists out there," he said.

Regardless, Nicola told everyone in attendance that SB 10 in its current form probably went too far.

"There's provisions [in the bill] that strip judges of authority they have right now," he said. "I don't think that's a wise idea—what we do in criminal law and the justice system is treat people ... the same way. That's fundamental fairness."

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