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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on September 5th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 27 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 27

Newly signed bail reform bill faces challenges

By Spencer Cole

A newly signed bill ending cash bail in California drew a relatively mixed reaction from state representatives, activists, and local law enforcement. 

On Aug. 28, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 10, or the California Money Bail Reform Act, into law, effective Oct. 1, 2019. 

"This a transformative day for our justice system," state Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye stated after Brown's signing. "Our old system of money bail was outdated, unsafe, and unfair." 

California officials aligned with the effort expressed their support as the week progressed, including gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom. "A person's checking account balance should never determine how they are treated under law," he stated, adding the practice of cash bail "criminalizes poverty." 

The state's branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) originally endorsed the bill but reversed course following late amendments. In a statement, the organization said SB 10 failed to create substantial reductions in pretrial detention and didn't "provide sufficient due process nor adequately protect against racial biases and disparities" in the justice system. 

"We oppose the bill because it seeks to replace the current deeply flawed system with an overly broad presumption of preventative detention," the ACLU said. "This falls short of critical bail reform goals and compromises our fundamental values of due process and racial justice."

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley told the Sun that lawmakers in Sacramento had to find a compromise that could get as many parties as possible on board. 

"It might be one of those situations where nobody is completely happy right now, but I do think the spirit of wanting to change this law is the right spirit," she said. "It just didn't seem fair to me that poverty should be the reason you'd be kept in custody."

Locally, opinions were mixed about a law that its opponents say are nebulous and will kill California's bail industry in favor of taxpayer-funded programs.

"It's putting us out of business," said Tim Romero, a Santa Maria bail bondsman with more than 20 years of experience. Romero's company, Santa Maria Bail Bonds, has been around since the 1970s. It's stayed in his family's hands that entire time. 

There are 17 licensed bail agents operating in the county, according to the California Department of Insurance. 

Romero told the Sun he thought SB 10 would result in more people being held in jail longer without the opportunity to post bail. 

Dudley did not dismiss that potential adverse side effect.

"Much of this decision about letting people go or keeping them incarcerated is going to be based upon judicial discretion," she said, "and if judges end up incarcerating more people, then the jail population will increase."

The Sheriff's Office has long grappled with housing and staffing issues at the Santa Barbara County Jail. A grand jury report critical of the office's practices released earlier this year pointed to the jail as a cause for concern due to those problems. And now the office and its sheriff, Bill Brown, will essentially have to take a wait-and-see approach as the law goes into effect. 

"I don't think that the sheriff is going to be in a really good position to know at this point how that will affect the number of people inside the jail," Dudley said. 

In an email, Brown told the Sun that the impact to the jail system at this point was "unknown," citing rules, crime definitions, and procedures that need to be established and put into action by California's Judicial Council and counties. 

"To some extent, the devil will be in the details that have not yet been developed," Brown wrote. "Significant additional funding will also need to be provided by the state to the courts and the counties for appropriate pretrial screenings and supervision." 

Brown said that if the counties will have available funding for the programs replacing cash bail, he would be "guardedly optimistic the new system will hold serious and serial criminals more accountable than the current one, thereby enhancing public safety."

He called the bail reform move "a paradigm shift." 

SB 10's opponents still have a pathway to repeal it, assuming they gather enough signatures for a ballot initiative in 2020. The law would then be put on hold until voters decided its fate.

On Aug. 29, the American Bail Coalition (ABC) came out in support of just such an initiative it said was launched that day. The effort is led by the coalition's industry partners and some victim advocacy groups.

"We are building a substantial wall that will hopefully prevent this reckless legislation from ever becoming law," ABC Executive Director Jeff Clayton said. 

The group and its allies have about three months to gather more than 366,000 signatures.
One of those adversaries could be Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo), of Templeton. The 35th District Assemblyman declined an interview on bail reform by the Sun's sister paper, New Times, in April of this year, but he submitted a letter to the paper revealing some of his beliefs on the subject. 

In the letter, Cunningham, a former prosecutor, said the law would put public safety and crime victims at risk, impose "considerable unfunded costs on local governments" for the establishment of pretrial agencies," and would remove an incentive for felons to appear in court. 

"This proposal, in my view, ultimately would make our communities less safe," he wrote. 

Cunningham voted "no" on the last iteration of the bill. 

District Attorney Dudley agreed with Cunningham that the incentive for some criminals to return to court could be diminished by the law. 

"If you don't come back for your court date, then a warrant is issued, and you can be taken into custody as soon as law enforcement has contact with you. That is really the only incentive for people to come back," she said. 

Many people do return to court on their scheduled day, and Dudley said this was because they think it's the right thing to do and they "want to deal with the charge that they have in front of them." Others simply want to make sure they get some of their bail money back. 

However, there will always be outliers. And no-cash bail could create issues for law enforcement if felons stop showing up to court. 

"Those that would not return but would if they could get their bail money back, I'm afraid that those will be criminals and instead of being in custody, they'll be on our streets," Dudley said. 


Staff Writer Spencer Cole can be reached at scole@santamariasun.com.




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