No More Pre-Trial Bail in California, Just Jail or No Jail

By William Vogeler, Esq. on August 30, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

California bailed on bail.

Actually, it's not that simple. After a 40-year campaign to end cash bail in the state, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that gives judges discretion to release defendants pending trial without bail.

But reports make it sound like there's a get-out-jail free card in California. Actually, that's basically true.

Pre-Trial Detention

The new law goes into effect next October, but the writing has been on prison walls for years. It got real this year as more courts started ruling that the cash bail system is unconstitutional.

Years earlier, even the Department of Justice saw it. The government said pre-trial bail was unconstitutional because poor people couldn't afford it and stayed in jail even while legally innocent.

The new law places their fate in the hands of judges, who will have broad discretion to decide who is dangerous or a flight risk. Defendants will be measured "low," "medium," or "high risk," but each court will set its own procedures.

Suspects accused of violent felonies or sex crimes don't stand a chance of getting out before trial. Most alleged misdemeanants, however, will go home with money in their pocket.

Bygone Bailbonds

What the bill really does is kill the bail industry. Someday, people will tell stories about how it was in the old days.

The bailbondsmen are not going down without a fight, however. David Quintana, a lobbyist for the industry, said they are already planning to block the new law.

"You don't eliminate an industry and expect those people to go down quietly," he said. "Every single weapon in our arsenal will be fired."

The good news is they won't have to pay bail if they get arrested with those weapons -- maybe.

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