Despite numerous objections from law enforcement and civic leaders, a new zero-bail policy went into effect in Los Angeles County on October 1 that will allow criminal suspects accused of certain non-violent or non-serious crimes to be cited and released, marking a significant departure from the traditional cash bail system.
The decision to implement the policy was made in July by the Los Angeles County Superior Court, under the argument that cash bail discriminates against minorities and the lower-class.
Certain misdemeanor offenses such as domestic battery, stalking and violation of a protective order will still require a cash bail under the policy.
In addition, cash bail will be maintained for individuals accused of manslaughter, rape, murder and assault, and they will still have to pay higher bail amounts.
Felony defendants, such as those accused of sex with a minor, battery on a peace officer or human trafficking, will require a judicial review in order to be released on bail, according to the LA Times.
The policy has not been without its share of controversy.
A lawsuit filed in the L.A. County Superior Court by a dozen cities looks to overturn the law, citing a threat to public safety.
These cities include Arcadia, Artesia, Covina, Downey, Glendora, Industry, Lakewood, La Verne, Palmdale, Santa Fe Springs, Vernon and Whittier.
“Our big hope would be to overturn the zero-bail policy or at least put a pause on it so that we have the ability to take a harder look at it and find out whether or not this is the right thing to do,” Glendora Mayor Gary Boyer said about the lawsuit.
Whittier Mayor Joe Vinatieri also lambasted the policy as a threat to public safety in a press release.
“At the local government level, our number one responsibility is to keep people safe,” the mayor said. “It has become increasingly difficult to ignore the challenges our communities are facing and what happens when there are no consequences for breaking the law.”
In addition, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore voiced his reservations about the move.
“Law enforcement is averse to the list of ‘book and release’ offenses because that approach offers little to no deterrence to those involved in a range of serious criminal offenses.”
However, not everyone was against the new ordinance, with L.A. County Supervisor Holly Mitchell supporting the change.
“There is a reason why the courts have ordered cash bail as unconstitutional … the data has shown that it doesn’t prevent crime from happening. Pre-trial release should depend on a person’s risk to public safety … our justice system should not be for sale,” she argued.
Presiding Judge Samantha P. Jessner also defended the policy.
“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,” Jessner said.
Under the new pre-arraignment release protocol, release decisions will be based on an arrestee’s risk to public or victim safety and their likelihood of returning to court.
This approach aims to reduce reliance on cash bail for those arrested on suspicion of non-violent, non-serious felonies and misdemeanors.
The policy also outlines that individuals arrested for more serious crimes will go before a magistrate who will determine appropriate non-financial pre-arraignment release terms.
Capital offenses or felonies eligible for the death penalty will not qualify for pre-arraignment release.