California Should Beware the Consequences of SB10

The State Assembly passed legislation to eliminate cash bail despite opposition


WASHINGTON, D.C., August 21, 2018 --Despite opposition from former bail reform champions, the California State Assembly passed SB 10 yesterday to effectively eliminate cash bail in the state. Passed by the bare minimum of votes, SB 10 gives local courts the power to determine the conditions of a defendant’s release, so long as it is nonmonetary.

SB 10 allows local courts to create their own evaluation systems for determining who is at low, moderate or high risk of re-offending or fleeing, using that scale to release or detain a defendant before trial. Regardless of specific evaluation systems, those accused of nonviolent misdemeanors will be released within 12 hours after being booked, but defendants with recent serious or felony convictions, multiple failures to appear or allegations involving domestic violence will not qualify for release under the conditions of SB 10.  

Passed under the assumption that the bail system punishes the poor, SB 10 could actually result in increased discrimination. The bill gives local courts authority to decide who should be released and who should be detained while awaiting trial, furthering the opportunity for racial biases. 

“While SB 10 may seem progressive, judges already subjectively determine conditions of release,” said Don Mescia, executive director of United Bail of America. “We’ve seen judges in Baltimore, Spokane and St. Louis choose to keep defendants in jail while awaiting trial under similar systems. This bill only serves to put thousands of California bail agents out of work and deplete the resources of an already strained criminal justice system.”

Criminal justice activists and reform groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who initially supported the bill, withdrew support this week after amendments raised concerns that SB 10 gave courts too much discretion, urging lawmakers to vote against the bill. 

“Assemblyman David Chiu, who voted in favor of the bill, admitted that it’s not perfect, so why introduce it to our criminal justice system at all? It’s clear that no one supports this bill, losing advocates days before the vote and being passed by the bare minimum,” said Mescia. “We’ve seen negative consequences in states that passed similar bail reform policies, including increased incarceration and failure to appear rates. We do not want SB 10 to become the precedent for failed bail reform across the country.”

The state Senate now has two weeks to determine the fate of SB 10.