California Becomes First State To Abolish Cash Bail In Criminal Proceedings

A man walks by a bail bonds store.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images

California became the first state to eliminate the system of cash bail in criminal courts. The change will go into effect October 2019 and goes further than any state has previously to end the system of cash bails in pretrial proceedings.

The Merced Sun-Star reported on the new legislation, Senate Bill 10. Under the bill, California will replace cash bail with “risk assessments” of detainees accompanied by non-monetary conditions of release.

“Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly,” Brown said in a statement reported by the Sun-Star, speaking to the motivation of the new bill. The many criminal law advocates have been attempting to educate the public for years about the pitfalls of the cash bail system.

The new system will evaluate detainees based on risk and assign them to one of three risk levels. “Low” risk would allow the person to be released with the lowest non-monetary conditions. “Medium-risk” could be released or held depending the local laws. And “high-risk” would remain in custody until arraignment, such as those accused of violent felonies or sex crimes, says the Sun-Star.

Jerry Brown speaking.
Jerry Brown signed the new legislation today, eliminating the cash bail bond system in the state of California. Alex Wong / Getty Images

Advocates of the new system say that too many people are detained before their trial, not because of the severity of their crime, but because of their inability to pay their bail bond. Many call the bail bond system that has sprouted in response to the cash bail system predatory, and a clear way to discriminate against the poor in the criminal justice system.

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, a senior strategist with the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, praised the new legislation as an improvement and a signal to other states to move forward with similar legislation, according to the Sun-Star. “We know that where racial disparities are worst is wherever there is discretion,” she said. “That this is the best deal California could figure out is a big concern.”

However, there are some who are opposed to the new legislation. The bail bond industry thrives off of posting bonds to the communities who can not afford them out of pocket. The industry is already gearing up to prevent the legislation from becoming law.

“You don’t eliminate an industry and expect those people to go down quietly,” said David Quintana, a lobbyist for the California Bail Agents Association as quoted by the Sun-Star. “Every single weapon in our arsenal will be fired.”