California’s No-Bail Nightmare: The Shape of Things to Come

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Updated on September 22nd 2023

View of San Fransisco, California's Golden Gate Bridge and clear blue sky

More and more people across the country are learning the hard way that if you remove accountability from the criminal justice system by ending bail bonds things will go off the rails. Without the possibility of losing bail money, and secure in the knowledge that they will be quickly released after being arrested, criminals will do what criminals do: commit crimes.

California Dreaming

As you expected, cash bail is still a big topic in California. Last November, that state’s voters cast ballots in a truly legitimate election (no “big lies” there) to reject Prop 25 but proponents of eliminating cash bail haven’t given up, and likely never will. What’s interesting in California is the sheer hypocrisy of the lawmakers drumming up support for another run at ending cash bail. Take Los Angeles Democrat Sen. Bob Hertzberg, for instance. In his eyes, like so many other elected officials, votes in a free and democratic election only matter when they tilt the scales of “justice” their way. In other words, the senator and his like are offering a slap in the face to residents of their state who legitimately voted against ending cash bail – basically saying, “You poor souls, you’re wrong and have no idea what you’re doing. We’ll fix it, again.”

According to one media report, “One of the thorniest issues of ending the cash bail system is determining what replaces it. The proposal under Prop. 25 to use algorithms to determine defendants’ risk came under fire not just from the bail industry, but also a small but vocal number of civil rights advocates who opposed or refused to endorse the measure. They worried that the risk algorithms already in use in other states or the federal court system would continue to disproportionately affect minority communities and the poor.”

Even if you’re a bondsman outside of California, you should still pay attention to what goes on a little further west. In many ways, that state is one of the few that “stirs the drink” for the U.S. criminal justice system.

California was set to eliminate cash bail in 2018 when outgoing governor Jerry Brown signed SB-10 as one of his last official duties: a final, fond 'screw you' to the people of the Golden State. Fortunately, those people quickly mobilized and gathered enough signatures to stop the implementation of SB 10 and put the question of eliminating bail on the ballot in November 2020.

But just when folks in California thought they had been spared the lunacy of a bail-free state, the coronavirus came to town. When it did, left-leaning judges and politicians used COVID-19 as an excuse to trample on the wishes of the people and implement their own emergency version of SB 10. What followed was yet another example of what happens when states kick the bondsman to the curb.

A Disservice to Victims and the Community as a Whole

On April 6, 2020, the state of California's judicial council released their 'emergency bail schedule' which stated that those being held on bail pretrial at the time would be immediately released and anyone subsequently arrested for misdemeanors and so-called ‘low-level felonies’ would have any bail reduced to $0 and released as well.

After the new bail schedule went into effect law enforcement around the state sounded the alarm. Paul Kelly of the San Jose Police Officers Association warned “We're going to have a lot more victims." In Tulare County in the Central Valley of California, the district attorney declared that the $0 bail policy, and release of prisoners already in custody, was "A disservice to victims… and the community as a whole." He characterized the no-bail order as “reckless”.

Representatives of the Chino Hills Police issued a tweet wherein they cited the case of one Don Joseph. Joseph, it seems, had been arrested for stealing a car but had been immediately released as a result of the $0 bail order. 37 minutes after being released he committed a carjacking near the Dublin BART station.

Eric Medina: Poster Child for the No-Bail Movement

Of course, as you might imagine police in the state’s largest city, Los Angeles, had their own example of what happens when bail is abandoned and victimizers are treated like victims. In their case, they cited the case of one Eric Medina. Shortly after the zero-bail policy was instituted this fine upstanding citizen was arrested four times in a three-week period. Each time for the same thing: grand theft auto.

The first vehicle he helped himself to was a Ford van. Police quickly apprehended him and took him in. A day later he was back on the street, having been released under the $0 bail order. Realizing the $0 bail quick-release order meant he had nothing to lose he allegedly stole a Toyota pickup truck a mere 5 days later. Again, he was apprehended. Again he went to jail. And again he was freed without bail as a result of the California judicial council order.

But Mr. Medina wasn’t done yet. Not by a longshot. Just days after being released the second time without bail he allegedly stole yet another Toyota pickup truck. Again he was arrested. Again he was jailed. And again, he was released. Then, just to really drive home the point that the judicial council had installed a revolving door inside California jails, he was arrested again just a week later, this time driving a stolen Ford Focus. You can probably guess what happened next.

Adding Insult to Injury

In a classic case of adding insult to injury the powers that be in California - a state already reeling from draconian coronavirus lockdown orders, wildfires and civil unrest - decided in their infinite wisdom that what the law-abiding citizens of their state needed was more repeat offenders wandering the streets. And boy did they produce them. LA Police Department records indicate that in just the first 30 days following the $0 bail order they arrested over 200 individuals multiple times. 23 of those poor, misunderstood souls were arrested 3 or more times. In just 30 days.

Those who oppose bail bonding point to the fact that overall crime in California was down during the months when the no-bail, catch and release rule was in effect. People living in the real world counter that argument by reminding the no-bail zealots that crime was down only because people were ordered to stay home and most businesses were closed. Yet even so, the number of repeat offenders, and the number of times those repeat offenders committed repeat offenses, were both up significantly.

Conclusion

The disconnect between the anti-bail cabal and reality can best be demonstrated by this quote from LA County District Atty Jackie Lacey who proudly stated: “Zero bail has been an effective tool in reducing the jail population” in California. As if releasing prisoners instead of prosecuting them for the crimes they’ve committed was a good thing.

California’s preview of what lies ahead if SB-10 is implemented mercifully came to an end on June 20. What happened during that period should be a wakeup call to folks here in Jefferson County and throughout Colorado who are being pressured to eliminate cash bail.

For updated information on bail bonding reform in California, see our additional content.

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