U.S. News

California scraps cash bail in move touted as economic fairness

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California will become the first U.S. state to eliminate the cash bail system for people awaiting criminal trial, under a reform bill signed on Tuesday by Governor Jerry Brown that will take effect in October 2019.

FILE PHOTO: California Governor Jerry Brown delivers his final state of the state address in Sacramento, California, U.S., January 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

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

The law will allow for defendants to be released after being arrested if they are deemed likely to appear for court hearings and pose little danger to the public. Judges would be allowed to rule out release for people accused of felony acts of violence, misdemeanor domestic violence, sexual assault, making threats and certain other crimes.

Civil liberties and human rights groups have long called for reforming the bail system, which has its roots in medieval England, but some of them opposed the California bill.

“It cannot guarantee a substantial reduction in the number of Californians detained while awaiting trial, nor does it sufficiently address racial bias in pretrial decision making,” leaders of three American Civil Liberties Union chapters in California said in a joint statement.

Local court systems in California would be allowed to set their own standards for releasing people considered a medium risk of endangering the public or not appearing in court.

In U.S. states, defendants are released if they can arrange payment of a cash bond, which a court can hold until the legal case is concluded. Judges may determine a defendant is ineligible for bail, such as in some murder cases where public safety might be at risk.

Federal courts in the United States rarely require defendants to post cash bail. Instead, judges can set conditions for release, such as supervision and travel restrictions.

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye supported the new bill.

“Our old system of money bail was outdated, unsafe, and unfair,” Cantil-Sakauye said in a statement.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Bill Tarrant