Previously only the purview of legislators, it appears that California is seeing judges step squarely into the fray over bail reform. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has noted that bail overhaul is coming to California with or without the new law. For those keeping score at home, that law is referred to as “SB10,” and eliminates cash bail from the state. It’s set to go into effect in October, 2019, but has been challenged by a consortium of anti “reform” advocates, who quickly gathered more than enough signatures to have the issue go to a vote.
We are seeking to make it as a fair and transparent as possible. We as a branch supported [Senate Bill] 10 because we believed it was a fairer way to assess a person charged with a crime.
Fair vs. Legal
Fair is a good concept, though the word itself is frequently abused to mean “good for me” or, alternately, “good for one specific group at the detriment of another.” Legality being the bailiwick of California’s high court, and “fairness” in the modern, normative sense being that of legislators, this seems a puzzling statement from the judge (to say the least).
Where Do We Go From Here?
If judges can make the rules on bail, what are legislators, district attorneys, and the police to do? Presumably they’ll also be permitted to make decisions that don’t currently fall directly under their sphere of influence. We’ll see how that works out.
At the same time, there is further irony to the story. In California, the new “pre-trial assessment” tool that was to replace cash bail was specifically opposed by some groups heavily in favor of eliminating cash bail, including the ACLU. They feared – rightly as it turns out – that the new law would give judges too much authority to make decisions about bail, resulting in more people being left in jail rather than fewer.
In Maryland, where a similar law has been enacted, that has been precisely the case, giving credence to the concern over taxpayer dollars being wasted, prison crowding, and a general lack of fairness (there’s that word again!) in the new system.
Careful what you wish for, California…