California Supreme Court Rules It’s Unconstitutional To Imprison People Just Because They Can’t Afford Bail
In a unanimous California Supreme Court decision, the state’s top justices ruled Thursday that courts must consider a defendant’s ability to pay bail before setting exorbitant demands that keep many people locked up in pretrial detention.
Cash bail is intended to be a mechanism of making sure that people who have been charged with crimes eventually return to court and keep their noses clean while they’re free. In reality, the practice has become a system where many people, particularly poor people, are stuck in jail not because they’re flight risks or deemed dangerous, but simply because they cannot pay what’s asked of them. These people essentially end up serving the equivalent of jail sentences before ever being convicted.
“The common practice of conditioning freedom solely on whether an arrestee can afford bail is unconstitutional,” Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar wrote early in the 29-page ruling for the court. “Other conditions of release—such as electronic monitoring, regular check-ins with a pretrial case manager, community housing or shelter, and drug and alcohol treatment—can in many cases protect public and victim safety as well as assure the arrestee’s appearance at trial. What we hold is that where a financial condition is nonetheless necessary, the court must consider the arrestee’s ability to pay the stated amount of bail—and may not effectively detain the arrestee ‘solely because’ the arrestee ‘lacked the resources’ to post bail.”
California has been trying to negotiate bail reforms since 2018, in part due to the case behind this ruing. Kenneth Humphrey, 66, was arrested in 2017 for attempting to rob a 79-year-ol
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