A Federal Judge in San Francisco has just come down with a ruling that may completely upend the bail system across the United States. U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers stated in her ruling that the two lead plaintiffs were significantly deprived of their right to freedom after languishing in jail for over 24 hours.
This ruling challenges the money bail system our country has come to see as a necessary part of the judicial system and that many have begun to see as an unfair burden on the nation’s poor. The bail system has been an easy get out of jail card for those with money but deprives the poverty-stricken with a disadvantage they literally can’t afford.
In the ruling Judge Gonzales stated that:
The bail schedule, by contrast, is arbitrary in that it sets amounts without regard to any objective measurement and thus bears no relation to the government’s interests in enhancing public safety and ensuring court appearance.
The contrasting option is the pre-trial risk assessment tool that has been put into place by California’s Senate Bill 10 which Governor Jerry Brown last year. The bill will effectively outlaw money bail options across the state, and is something that many other states have already put into place, or are considering. However, there is a referendum that seeks to overturn the law coming up in November of 2020.
The caveat to the ruling is that to overturn the money bail system there needs to be an alternative to bail in place, like the release assessment system. There is currently no such system in place in Florida, but there is the possibility that, with this ruling, our state will look into a similar option.
Bail and the bail bond system is an area that has long been in contention throughout the legal system. Eliminating bail wouldn’t cure the system without something fairer being put into place. The last thing we would want to see is an option that would leave more people wallowing in jail with they could be free.
Under the current system, there is at least the possibility of release. If an assessment system is more burdensome to those charged, then there is a possibility of the jails being more overrun than they currently are.
A system that would allow those who are not potentially harmful to society — first offenders, minor offenses, etc. — would be a benefit to both the jail system and Florida’s economy. By forcing those who have committed minor offenses to pay bail to get out of jail, and with Florida’s system where a person may spend 30 days or more in jail prior to seeing a judge, we’re doing even more harm than some other systems.
If you are charged with a crime and are unable to pay your bail, you may pay in more ways than just your time behind bars. We have heard from many clients and contacts that someone charged with a crime who was unable to pay the set bond lost their jobs, their homes, and even all of their belongings.
If a person is unable to bond out, they often spend more time in jail than we consider reasonable. They’re employer has to find a replacement, even if they may not want to. Most bosses are understanding and would hold a job if they could, but a month with a vacant desk isn’t something they are able to afford.
Not only that, it’s a month or more where rent and utilities aren’t being paid. Again, a landlord may be reasonable and want to help, but their income is based on the rent being paid. So they need to find a new tenant. They may even have the right to sell the jailed person’s belongings in order to try to recoup any rent they’ve lost.
If a person has the money to pay the bail amount set, they don’t have to be afraid of these outcomes. That alone is an additional burden on the poor. Judge Gonzales’s decision would make this outcome impossible, or at least less likely. Jobs wouldn’t be lost. Rents would be paid.
That’s better for the person charged. It’s better everyone depending on that person. It’s better for the community as a whole. For that, we are happy to see a Federal Judge’s opinion showing a desire toward fairness and equality for all.