Zero Bail Order in Los Angeles County Re-Instated

Zero Bail Order in Los Angeles County Re-Instated, With Bail Schedules to End for the Next Year

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lawrence P. Riff issued an injunction against the use of the bail schedule in Los Angeles County on March 16, 2023.  My phone has been ringing off the hook asking a simple question: what does all this mean for bail in Los Angeles County?  So, I thought I’d take a moment to explain, since we have participated in or been working on the issue of the litigation against monetary bail since even before the Civil Rights Corps was incorporated.

Read the Opinion: LA County Urquidi

First, the zero-bail pandemic bail schedule will operate for the next sixty days at a minimum per the order of Judge Riff.  There is really nothing that can be done about that unless Judge Riff’s colleagues simply choose to ignore his order.  As the study from Yolo County showed, those who get a zero bail are 90% likely to commit a new crime than those who post bail and commit new crimes at an alarming clip of 70.6%.

Second, some new policy, to be crafted solely by the Civil Rights Corps, with the assent of solely the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County will then be used to handle the setting of bail in Los Angeles County for the next year until the case is decided.  No input will be sought from anyone else as to this matter.  In fact, the Attorney General of the State of California was made a defendant in the case on April 11, 2023 because the case against bail schedules is a case against the California Penal Code that requires them and the State judges that set them.  Attorney General Bonta has not, as of May 17, 2023, entered an appearance in the case much less file an answer and begin participating in the case.  The complaint alleges that Attorney General Bonta enforces the bail schedule in California: “He is charged with the enforcement of California’s laws, including provisions of the Penal Code.”  The Superior Court Judges, who are charged by statute with setting the bail schedule, are similarly not listed as parties to the case, and no one is defending them or the schedule they put into place or the penal code section that requires them to do so.

Third, Judge Riff is clearly looking for someone to mount a defense as to the bail schedules and the penal code, which should not be a difficult enterprise if pursued in earnest and good faith.  In fact, the California Committee to Revise the Penal Code studied the issue of eliminating bail schedules, and decided to keep them because judges would then have to set bail in every case and that would delay things to the point where any gains would be lost by everyone waiting in jail for a bail to be set in open court in every case.  Further, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled directly against the Civil Rights Corp’s theory of this case in the case of Hester v. Gentry, where the Court held that a misdemeanor bail schedule was constitutional.

Read the Opinion: Hester v. Gentry

Four, municipal police departments and governments are going to be blamed for the ultimate outcomes of all of this.  The City of Los Angeles has precisely zero interest in defending this case (Judge Riff indicated he had to grant a preliminary injunction because not a single shred of evidence was presented by the City or County of Los Angeles).  Unfortunately, without any other municipalities letting their voices be heard and demanding that state law be either defended or charged, the Civil Rights Corps with the blessing of the City of Los Angeles without input from the rest of the municipalities in the County will decide the future of bail in Los Angeles County.

Finally, it’s important to understand that this is not going to end money bail and detention in Los Angeles.  Instead, temporarily and perhaps permanently, it is going to end the practice of automatically pre-assigning bails, which is going to mean a mountain of hearings at great expense, rather than limit the amount of hearings we have today in the nature of smoothing around the edges, i.e., lowering bails for the indigent parties and increasing bails on the extremely violent or risky.  There is pending legislation, Assembly Bill 61, requiring courts to follow U.S. Supreme Court case law as to the timing of arraignments, because that his not happening fast enough right now.  Unfortunately, defendants are waiting 3-5 days for a hearing on bail in Los Angeles County according to the complaint.  That is simply too long, as we have learned, and that should be shortened to 48 hours or less.  But eliminating the bail schedule is going to further tax a system that already cannot meet constitutional deadlines, and ultimately it’s going to mean more jail for all.  More prompt review hearings is the simple solution here.

Unless someone stands up to the Civil Rights Corps, however, then the outcome will depend solely on what the Civil Rights Corps had for breakfast this morning.  The City, County, and State have done precisely nothing so far to defend the law or the judges that implement it, and there is zero indication that any of the three intend to do anything except give the Civil Rights Corps the blank check they already have.

Certainly, someone will come forward and defend the law.  But until then, we’re all just along for the ride.

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