California eliminated cash bail. What could possibly go wrong?

The Golden State continues its push to be the most woke of all the woke states in the land this month. Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law a measure which will eliminate bail for suspects awaiting trial. It’s not quite as bad as it sounds, because this doesn’t mean that everyone will be released as soon as they’re arraigned and simply be trusted to return for trial. The judge will be left with the discretion to determine who is or isn’t a flight risk or danger to the community. Those who are can be kept in jail while awaiting trial and everyone else will be released on their own recognizance. Believe it or not, there are a few things about this decision which I’m actually sympathetic with, but overall it’s still nearly as bad as it sounds. (The Hill)

California will become the first state to eliminate bail for suspects awaiting trial under legislation signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

The measure, which takes effect Oct. 1, 2019, eliminates the payment of money as condition for release and gives judges more power in determining who remains incarcerated ahead of trial.

“Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly,” Brown said in a statement Tuesday.

Under the new law, people who are arrested will be subject to a “pretrial risk assessment” to determine whether they can be released. The assessment also will determine whether the defendant presents a “low,” “medium” or “high” risk to the public.

I always like to start on a positive note when possible so allow me to sympathize with some of the problems they’re trying to address in California. The bail system is a mess and most people who work in the field agree with that. The idea of bail was supposed to be a system which kept truly dangerous people behind bars while awaiting trial and allowed others to leave while providing a serious incentive for them to come back. In other words, the bail amount such be a significantly painful pinch that they wouldn’t be willing to forfeit the money. Unfortunately, the introduction of bail bond services combined with the greed of fallible human beings has warped it into something else in too many cases.

Some people who have no resources at all to pay bail either wind up stuck in a cell on relatively minor charges or set loose with a bond they could never hope to pay back, perhaps disappearing. At the other end of the scale, there are white-collar crime cases where the suspects are vastly wealthy and no amount of bail is too high of a bar for them. Yes, there are problems with the system.

But at the same time, repeat offenders who already have bench warrants aren’t likely to improve their behavior and start showing up for trial over the fear of violating a court order. It’s the same as the fact that gun laws don’t prevent people from illegally purchasing guns if they are already willing to commit gun crimes. It’s just human nature and common sense.

Also, this new system is removing all bail guidelines and dumping the full responsibility of “guessing” whether the accused is dangerous or a flight risk on the judge. Consider the judge who decided to grant bail in that New Mexico compound case where an extremist was teaching children to shoot up schools. Not all judges are created equal and we do need guidelines to keep the worst of them in check.

The bail system may indeed be flawed, but at least in some cases, it slows down the serious flight risks and those who are dangers to the community. (Criminals out on bail commit more crimes than you would probably guess.) This move is going to open the door to further problems without solving the underlying issues in the bail bond system.