May 20, 2021

Faith in Action: May 23, 2021 – California Judges Need to End Excessive Bail

Faith in Action: May 23, 2021 – California Judges Need to End Excessive Bail


Every week at All Saints Church we put our faith into action. This week our petition is focused on excessive bail being issued by California judges that unfairly impact people with lower incomes.

Approximately 44,000 people are locked in county jails in California, who haven’t been convicted or sentenced for a crime, due to an inability to afford bail(1). Unsurprisingly, Black and brown people bear the brunt of this unjust system. For example, in Los Angeles County, where Black people make up only 9% of the overall population(2), Black women make up a third (33%)(3) of the population of the women’s jail. Most of these women are being jailed pretrial largely because they cannot afford their bail — and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis has gotten even worse. Some people have been forced to wait more than 5 years for a trial — that’s 5 years separated from loved ones, friends, and community members all because they lack the ability to pay for their freedom.

No one should have to sit in a jail cell because they are too poor to pay bail. Money bail further entrenches racial bias and injustice in our criminal legal system because people who are unable to afford bail are three to four times more likely to receive a sentence to jail or prison, and their sentences are two to three times longer(4). Even when a person is detained for a short time, it can result in the swift loss of employment and housing, lead to family separation and subsequent trauma, and moreover, any time in detention increases the likelihood that a person will submit to a guilty plea even when innocent.

Judges have not been following constitutional law, and as a result, people without resources are being held pretrial with sometimes life-risking consequences. The California Supreme Court recently held in the landmark case In re Humphrey that it is unconstitutional for judges to set bail beyond someone’s ability to pay as a way to keep them in jail pretrial. But since this landmark ruling, judges across the state are continuing to set extraordinarily high bails that people are unable to pay. Even worse, judges are increasingly denying people bail even when their charges do not fit the kinds of offenses the California Constitution says are eligible for indefinite pretrial detention.

Judges are public officials and should be accountable for the justice we want to see in our communities. We are calling on the California Judicial Council to instruct judges to commit to the following demands:

  1. Judges follow In re Humphrey and stop setting bail beyond someone’s ability to pay as a way to keep them in jail pretrial. Judges must promptly hold hearings on renewed bail motions from individuals in jail whose bail was set prior to the Humphrey decision.
  2. Every judge across the state must determine a person’s ability to pay before setting bail and people should not have to bear any costs associated with conditions of their release. 
  3. Denying bail altogether should only be allowed in the extraordinary cases listed in Article 1, Section 12 of the California Constitution. Judges must consider all non-monetary alternatives to detention before denying someone of their freedom before a trial. The burden is on the State to prove by clear and convincing evidence that pretrial detention is necessary; it is not the individual’s burden to show that they should be released.

Please demand the California Judicial Council instruct judges to commit to following the CA constitution regarding pre-trial detention and the impact of someone’s ability to pay with respect to setting bail

References: 

  1. “Waiting for Justice” Cal matters. https://act.colorofchange.org/go/303885?t=8&akid=50864%2E7465899%2EvnoOFp
  2. United Census Bureau. Quick Facts.  https://act.colorofchange.org/go/303887?t=12&akid=50864%2E7465899%2EvnoOFp
  3. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. https://act.colorofchange.org/go/303886?t=10&akid=50864%2E7465899%2EvnoOFp
  4. “Investigating the Impact of Pretrial Detention on Sentencing Outcomes.” LJAF. https://act.colorofchange.org/go/303888?t=14&akid=50864%2E7465899%2EvnoOFp



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