California lawmakers took the next step to eliminating the state’s cash-bail system on Monday.
In a 41-27 vote, Assembly members passed Senate Bill 10, which would make California the first state in the nation to get rid of cash bail, replacing it with a pre-trial detention system that has polarized lawmakers and the same civil liberties groups that originally supported bail reform.
Lawmakers have spent the past two years negotiating an end to cash bail, but both opponents and supporters complained that this measure provided too little time to consider such a fundamental change to the criminal justice system.
Lawmakers unveiled the bill last week, when a deal was struck that would have judges decide whether to release offenders based on their danger to the public and flight risk.
“In the military we have a saying: Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast,” said Republican Asm. Devon Mathis. “We need to slow this down.”
Under the final bill, counties would adopt as-yet-undetermined risk-assessment processes. Most people arrested for misdemeanors, or labeled low-risk of flight or to public safety, would be released pre-trial. Judges and county officials would have more discretion with medium and high-risk detainees.
Civil liberties groups who initially pushed for the measure turned against it over changes in the final version that give this power to judges and county officials. They argue it could lead to more people detained in jails than under the current system.
Endria Richardson of the Essie Justice Group called it “senseless.”
“It is worse,” Richardson said. “It would be worse to replace the current money bail system with this system of preventive detention.”
About two dozen protesters gathered outside the Capitol, while the ACLU and Human Rights Watch organized demonstrations in Los Angeles against the bill.
Meanwhile, Republicans and moderate Democrats in the state Legislature who opposed the bill argued a somewhat automated pre-trial procedure could lead to the release of dangerous people who should remain detained.
“You can’t just take something out of a computer and press a button and get a prediction that’s going to allow you to make an intelligent choice about whether something’s safe or not,” said Republican Asm. Jordan Cunningham.
Supporters argued that the current system is less safe, and that having money to pay bail does not determine a person’s fitness for pre-trial release.
Democratic proponents also called it likely their only chance to end cash bail, promising future refinements.
“We are staring in the face an opportunity to fix what almost everyone in this room agrees is a fundamentally broken system,” said Asm. Rob Bonta. “And to squander that opportunity would be wrong. We need to seize that opportunity.”
If the bill passes the Senate and Gov. Jerry Brown signs it, the state’s current cash-bail system would end in October of next year.
Brown has previously stated that he is “open to legislation that reforms California’s pre-trial system in a cost-effective manner that protects public safety and preserves the rights of the accused.”
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