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California’s Legal Shift: Cash Bail System Ends On Sunday For Certain Defendants

Despite Opposition to Proposition, California Supreme Court Ruled Against System

By Dolores Quintana

A landmark ruling by the California Supreme Court is poised to bring significant changes to the state’s cash bail system. The ruling dictates that certain defendants can no longer be detained solely due to their inability to afford bail.

However, California is not the first state to eliminate cash bail. In July of this year, the state of Illinois was the first state in the union to do so. 

In a unanimous opinion issued on Thursday, Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar asserted that the common practice of conditioning freedom solely on an arrestee’s financial capacity to post bail is unconstitutional. Instead, the court emphasized that various conditions of release, such as electronic monitoring, regular check-ins with a pretrial case manager, community housing or shelter, and drug and alcohol treatment, should be considered as alternatives to bail. 

The ruling firmly states that the court must take into account an arrestee’s ability to pay the specified bail amount and cannot detain the individual “solely because” they are unable to post bail. The ruling underlines that individuals, when given the opportunity, almost always secure their release, emphasizing the profound disadvantages of remaining incarcerated while awaiting the resolution of criminal charges.

Justice Cuéllar further emphasized the distinction between deciding that a person should be charged with a crime and determining whether, under the constitutional framework, that individual warrants detention pending trial for the alleged offense.

Reacting to the court’s decision, California Public Defenders Association President Jennifer Friedman expressed concern. She argued that the court had wrongly presumed that individuals had committed the charged offense when deciding on release issues and failed to provide a clear description of the limited category of individuals who might still be subject to detention. 

Friedman expressed hope that the ruling would bring about a substantial shift and ensure that nobody is held in custody unless clear and convincing evidence demonstrates that there are no viable alternatives to guarantee the person’s return to court.

The court’s decision comes in the wake of Proposition 25, a ballot measure aimed at eliminating cash bail, which faced opposition from 56% of California voters in recent months.

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