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Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Bill To Fully Abolish Cash Bail


All right. California is set to become the first state to eliminate cash bail altogether. Instead, courts would determine whether to release defendants based on their flight and public safety risks. Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler reports from Sacramento on this law signed Tuesday by Governor Jerry Brown.

BEN ADLER, BYLINE: The new law puts California's commercial bail industry out of business, and it eliminates all monetary conditions for pretrial release, such as charging defendants for ankle monitors that might otherwise run into the thousands of dollars. A handful of states have partially ended cash bail. But until now, only Washington, D.C., has done so entirely.

TANI CANTIL-SAKAUYE: People should not be judged on the amount in their wallet.

ADLER: That's California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, an appointee of former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. She helped negotiate the measure that passed the legislature last week.

CANTIL-SAKAUYE: And so this new procedure actually looks at the person's risk to the public and their ability to return to court for the orderly administration of justice.

ADLER: Starting in October of 2019, defendants charged with misdemeanors must be released within 12 hours of booking, with exceptions like domestic violence and stalking. And each county's court system will assess felony defendants as low, medium or high risk, which will help determine their release or detention. The law has split the coalition of progressive groups that spent years fighting to end cash bail. Jessica Bartholow with the Western Center on Law & Poverty argues it's a radical first step toward a fair and just judicial system.

JESSICA BARTHOLOW: This change is one of those rare opportunities to make a disproportionate impact on the poorest people.

ADLER: But other prominent groups say the law will hurt the poor by giving judges too much discretion, and it's stacked against defendants labeled high risk. In order to neutralize law enforcement groups, the bill's author put in a provision that those defendants must start out with the presumption that they should stay locked up. Natasha Minsker with the American Civil Liberties Union of California says that makes the law unjust.

NATASHA MINSKER: We are concerned that the system that's being put in place by this bill is too heavily weighted towards detention and does not have sufficient safeguards to ensure that racial justice is provided in the new system.

ADLER: And then there's the bail industry itself, which argued the new law has no basis in reality and will not work. But after its bitter defeat, the industry next year will cease to exist. Greg Padilla has run his family business in Sacramento for nearly 40 years, and he's sad for his employees who will lose their jobs.

GRED PADILLA: There's going to be about close to 4,000 bail agents throughout California and the support staff in every one of these offices throughout California - there's going to be thousands and thousands of people, you know, without work.

ADLER: As for what Padilla will do next, he says he hasn't thought about it yet.

For NPR News, I'm Ben Adler in Sacramento. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ben Adler