The American money bail system is under relentless attack, now led by a non-profit Washington, DC legal clinic’s class action suit seeking to abolish the cash bail system as unconstitutionally unfair to non-wealthy suspects.
Our current cash bail system is widely used in state and local courts, where a person charged with even nonviolent crime can be required to post money or property to allow his/her release from custody and ensure his/her continued appearances in court. If the person appears in court as required, the bail is returned. If the person fails to appear, he/she is subject to arrest and forfeiture of bail.
People who have sufficient property or money to post bail and appear as required incur no bail debt. However, people who do not have sufficient property or money to post bail must either stay in custody or use a bail bondsman. Bail bondsmen typically charge 10% of the total bail amount as a fee that the person owes, with interest, whether or not the case against him is dismissed and whether or not he is eventually acquitted. Consequently, if the court sets bail at $100,000, the person must pay a fee of $10,000, plus interest, for the bail bondsman’s posted $100,000 bond, no matter what happens in the case. A YouTube video referring to the bail system as “legalized robbery” can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFpHbTxHyVs
The current system has several results for people who lack property or money for posting bail:
– People remain in jail, even for nonviolent offenses, losing whatever jobs they may have and at a cost to taxpayers;
– People plead guilty, whether or not they have committed an offense, sometimes resulting in jail, losing whatever jobs they may have and at a cost to taxpayers;
– People incur debts of 10% of their bail amounts, plus interest, saddling them with debts they cannot pay, no matter what happens in the case.
The class action filed in California is one of nine suits filed in seven states to have the cash bail system abolished. Four of the suits have already been settled, with minor jails in the South agreeing to eliminate cash bail for many charges.
The suits seek to convince state and local courts to follow the federal system, which allows nonviolent suspects to remain free without bail pending trial and denies bail to serious/violent suspects. Anti-bail forces suggest that electronic monitors and frequent police visits could eliminate the disadvantages of the cash bail system while ensuring a defendant’s appearances in court.
The suits are strongly opposed by California Bail Agents Association and at least one other bail bondsmen’s agency. The bail bondsmen, who will essentially go out of business if the suits succeed, argue that eliminating the current system will also eliminate the incentive to appear as required: “What is the incentive to go to court if you don’t lose anything for failing to appear?”
In January 2016, Plaintiffs intend to ask the presiding judge in California to suspend San Francisco’s cash bail bond system pending the case’s resolution.
Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information can not be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither the author, handelonthelaw.com, or any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.