“64% of California’s jail population is awaiting trial or sentencing as of December 2016.” Most remain in pretrial custody because they cannot afford bail. Jail Profile Survey, http://www.bscc.ca.gov/
Many Californians accused of crimes give up their constitutional right to fight these charges because a guilty plea will get them out of jail.
In a 2017 study by Human Rights Watch, “Prosecutors often argue for high bail because a defendant is ‘too dangerous to let out’ before trial, then offer the same ‘dangerous’ person a time-served, go home sentence, in exchange for a guilty plea. Some judges set bail a defendant cannot possibly pay to encourage guilty pleas for the sake of rapid processing of cases.
The purpose for setting bail is to protect public safety by preventing potentially dangerous people from causing harm before their cases are adjudicated and to prevent people from fleeing the jurisdiction or otherwise evading their obligation to go to court.
The almost year-long study revealed that 77-91 percent of “felony defendants who stayed in jail until they received their sentence were released before the earliest possible trial date. They all pled out before they had a chance to assert their innocence.”
According to Human Rights Watch, bail and pretrial is determined on wealth. Affluent people simply pay bail and buy their freedom. Seventy to 80 percent of arrestees could not, or did not, pay bail.
Most defendants rely on bail bondsmen to get out of detention.
Bondsmen charge as large a down-payment as they can, sometimes the full amount of the fee, or work out payment plans that they enforce with the threat of revoking the bond and sending the accused back to jail, the study revealed
Some bondsmen charge a fee of up to 10 percent of the actual bail amount, which is not refundable, even if the case is dismissed or charges are not filed,” the study discovered
In California, more than 63 percent of prisoners in county jails have not been sentenced but are serving time because they cannot afford to pay bail. Studies have calculated California’s median bail is five times greater than that for the rest of the country.
California should adopt a system that favors release and assesses the risk of danger in an individualized, contextual way, according to the study. “As a default rule, only those accused of serious felonies should merit consideration for pretrial detention in the first place.”
The defendants who do stay in custody should have a full adversarial hearing with an enforceable legal presumption of release absent proof by the prosecutor of a specific need to detain. This proposed system would make significant changes in California courts’ approach to administering justice, Human Rights Watch concluded.
The study made many recommendations that should provide a better approach to administering justice:
Prioritize public safety by causing courts and prosecutors to focus on those defendants who truly pose a danger, while releasing those who do not;
Mitigate the income-based discrimination of the current money bail system;
Decrease the number of people, particularly innocent people, coerced into pleading guilty; because of their custody status
Save the public money by cutting jail costs;
Honor the presumption of innocence and treat people in court as human beings, not numbers.