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SB10 - California’s $300 Million Misfire Becomes Reality

State of California

On October 1, Jerry's Revenge - commonly referred to as SB10 - took effect in the once Golden State. For those who haven't been keeping up with news from the bail reform front SB10 is California's deep dive into the world of catch-and-release "justice." Its proponents claim that by removing the incentive to appear in court that bail bonds provide society will be safer, and taxpayers will save millions that would have been spent on holding so many accused criminals. It's a master class in pretzel logic alright. And the worst part for "reformers" is that their dream of streets (instead of jails) teeming with accused criminals may not even materialize. So how did we come to this type of "everybody loses" scenario? Let's find out.

Anatomy of a Failure: How California’s Anti-Bondsman Crusade Went Off the Rails

SB10 was originally designed simply to eliminate the bail industry in California. It was a short-sighted, self-serving effort promoted by high paid lobbyists with no dog in the fight. Once the bill was passed and California was shoved off the cliff, the lobbyists would collect their fees and move on to the next state. There they could charge even bigger lobbying fees because of their California success.

Enter the JCC

But a funny thing happened on the way to the way to the cliff. The powerful Judicial Council of California, sensing the bill would strip judges of their traditional discretionary power and replace it with a computer program, stepped in and demanded changes. And changes they got. The bill was amended in such a way as to hand judges unprecedented new powers to hold defendants pending trial.

Whereas in the past a judge would have to show cause for denying someone pretrial release they can now hold pretty much anyone they want for whatever reason they want. The net result of this change is likely to mean more defendants being held in custody awaiting trial, not less as was promised.

The Backlash

The changes were so egregious that even the ACLU - who co-sponsored the original bill - pulled their support along with more than 50 other criminal justice reform organizations who had originally backed the bill. Jerry Brown, however, desperate to leave some type of mark on the state before he had to vacate the governor's office, signed it anyway.

Reality Sets In

Up to now all the hubbub surrounding SB10 was largely an academic exercise in what-ifs. Since the calendar clicked over to October 1, 2019, however, it's become real world, and it's fair to say no one (except maybe the lobbyists who cashed in on the effort and, of course, Jerry Brown) is particularly happy about it.

  • Proponents of the original version of the bill have decried what they now see as a “presumption of detainment” for many of the accused. This is the exact opposite of the original intention of the bill when it was first proposed.
  • Others take exception to the new detention hearing procedures laid out in the revised bill that put the burden of proof on the defendant, who must now prove any detention ordered by the judge is unjustified.
  • Some early proponents of SB10 are now waxing nostalgic about the days of bail bonding. At least then, they say, a defendant had a slim chance of release, even if their bail was high. Now, because judges can do whatever they want, many defendants will have zero chance of release.
  • And taxpayers are beginning to wake up to the fact that they’re the ones who will be left footing the bill for this colossal misadventure. We’ll take a look at the cold hard truths about that now.

Taxpayers Lose Again

One of the biggest selling points anti-bail proponents used to mollify taxpayers was that by eliminating bail, there would be fewer people being held by the state awaiting their day in court. That would result in millions of dollars in savings. Recently, however, the true cost of this travesty has been coming to light. And the picture isn't pretty for taxpayers.

In order to support the catch-and-release system enshrined in SB10, a massive new high-tech infrastructure needs to be built that allows the state to monitor all those released defendants. Total cost of implementing the new system is estimated to be as high as $300 million. Once in place, it will then cost tens of millions of dollars each year to maintain the system and monitor all those defendants.

In addition, should those defendants fail to appear in court the state will now have to pay to track them down. In the past, the bondsman kept tabs on his or her clients and ensured they showed up in court. If they didn’t, the bail agent was responsible for capturing the fugitive and returning them to custody at no charge to the state. Those days are now officially over.

The Bottom Line

What happened in California is a cautionary tale for Jefferson County, Arapahoe County, Denver County, and the rest of the country. The entire anti-bail movement was on shaky footing to begin with and, because there was no real justification for it, it was easy for a group like the JCC to enter the picture and twist SB10 to fit their agenda. Finally, because California had a lame-duck governor with nothing to lose the bill got signed into law in spite of being fatally flawed, simply because it appeared on the surface to be "progressive."

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