The zero-bail system, which replaces the traditional practice of determining defendants’ monetary bail amounts depending on the seriousness of their alleged crimes, went into effect in Los Angeles County on Sunday.
The former practice of setting cash bail amounts appropriate to the seriousness of a crime was criticised for favouring the wealthy who could pay bail and not doing enough to secure public safety.
Supporters of law and order now accuse the zero-bail system, formally known as Pre-Arraignment Release Protocols, of removing accountability from the justice system by allowing the majority of suspects who are detained for allegedly committing a crime to be quickly released from custody rather than being held while they await charges and trial unless they are accused of the most serious crimes.
“Our communities have not been shy about telling us how nervous they are about this change,” LA County Sheriff Robert Luna told the Board of Supervisors last week, FOX 11 LA reported.
According to Luna, victims who witness perpetrators being freed from detention right away lack faith in the criminal justice system. Additionally, the sheriff stated that while he is aware of the necessity to uphold the constitutional rights of those who have been arrested, he also believes that having zero bail might demoralise law enforcement as they strive to make arrests only to see the suspect “walk away with a citation as the victim looks on in disbelief.”
Holly Mitchell, the county supervisor, argues that the new bail system does not imply that criminals are escape punishment.
“It’s really dangerous for us to conflate bail with accountability,” Mitchell said, adding, “Bail means I have the resources to pay my way out of jail.”
The new system was implemented in response to allegations that cash bail favoured the wealthy because they could afford to pay for their release from detention after being arrested for more serious crimes while low-income people accused of smaller offences were had to remain in custody.
Most people who are detained on suspicion of minor infractions or nonviolent crimes are either cited and released on the spot, or they are booked and released from custody after being taken to a police or sheriff’s station, with instructions to appear in court on a particular day for an arraignment once charges have been filed.
A magistrate judge will be consulted regarding the disposition of suspects who have been arrested on suspicion of posing a flight or increased risk to the public. The magistrate judge will decide whether the suspect should be detained in custody until their arraignment or released with non-financial restrictions, such as electronic monitoring.
After being charged and showing up in court for arraignment, the defendant’s release conditions may be modified or revoked by the judge.
Twelve Southland communities filed legal documents on Friday with the Los Angeles Superior Court asking for an injunction to prevent the implementation of the zero-bail system due to fears that it will compromise public safety.
To avoid jail overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic, the county instituted a zero-bail system, but the rule was abandoned a year later. The Los Angeles police and sheriff’s agencies were ordered by a preliminary injunction given in May by a Los Angeles judge to stop accepting cash bail.
The Los Angeles Superior Court made its intentions for the new system public in July. When the case first came up, presiding judge Samantha Jessner stated: “A person’s ability to pay a large sum of money should not be the determining factor in deciding whether that person, who is presumed innocent, stays in jail before trial or is released.”
Speaking to the Board of Supervisors last week, some county supervisors revealed that their offices had received numerous calls from locals worried about the new system’s effect on crime, especially in light of the recent mob-style smash-and-grab burglaries in which the suspects in those crimes reportedly were quickly apprehended before committing more crimes.
“This new bail schedule certainly is an attempt at justice reform, which I think we’ve all been pushing for, but it is so different, and it is certainly causing a concern and anxiety out there, not only with law enforcement … but also from our communities,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said. “And I can’t be the only one whose having my office inundated with calls and when I’m out publicly I have people approaching me who are very concerned about this.”
The zero-bail system was established during the pandemic, but several county residents warned the Board of Supervisors that the county should reconsider it because other jurisdictions that tried it saw increases in crime.
Kathryn Barger, the supervisor, stated that her office was also getting calls from concerned people. The difficulty, she said, is how to communicate to the public the goals of the new system and “how are we going to make sure that criminals out there don’t feel there are no consequences.” She acknowledged the drawbacks of cash bail.
“Residents don’t feel safe. One only has to turn on the TV each morning and hear what happened the day before, whether it be a smash-and-grab, a carjacking, a burglary, an armed robbery … and people want to know how this is going to impact crime on the street,” Barger said.