In a landmark ruling, the California Supreme Court unanimously agreed that judges must consider a suspects’ ability to pay when bail is set, meaning they are barred from keeping prisoners behind bars if they can not afford bail prior to the start of their trial.
“The common practice of conditioning freedom solely on whether an arrestee can afford bail is unconstitutional,” the justices said in their decision.
However, judges will also need to weigh the risk the defendant poses to himself or others in determining whether they should be released. If a bail has to be determined, judges will need to determine the seriousness of the offense along with any prior records to determine a reasonable bail. Prior to, judges only considered the crime and any priors, which left hundreds of thousands of persons in jail waiting to post bail
Judges may still conclude that money bail is reasonable, but they must consider the defendant’s ability to pay, a long with the seriousness of the charged offenses and the person’s criminal record, and set bail in an amount the person can afford, Cuellar wrote.
For Black communities in California, the ruling could fundamentally change an important aspect of the criminal justice system and may very well save lives.
Nationally, the tragic story of Kalief Browder shone a necessary light on the cash bail system, where Black people are routinely left to languish in jail because they are unable to post bail. The practice routinely allows for wealthier individuals to be released, while lower-income persons are subjugated to remain imprisoned. Advocates who want to end cash bail also feel that the practice encourages individuals who are innocent, to plead guilty for the promise of release.
Last November, California residents were presented with an opportunity to end cash bail at the ballot box, but instead opted against the measure. The ruling upholds a lower court decision that allowed a San Francisco man to be released under electronic monitoring supervision.
Former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra supported the decision arguing that judges should contemplate on whether a suspect is dangerous or likely to flee as part of the decision to keep them in jail while awaiting trial.
Becerra was appointed to Biden’s Cabinet earlier this year, prompting California governor Gavin Newsom to appoint Rob Bonta, to his position. Bonta is a well-known supporter of ending cash bail.
“The jailhouse door should not swing open and closed based on how much money someone has,” Bonta said in January, according to CBS Sacramento. “There is no disputing the present system wrongly treats people who are rich and guilty better than those who are poor and innocent.”
In total the Supreme Court’s decision means that the ruling will become law in the state of California.
Exonerated! Wrongly Convicted Black Folks Whose Names Have Been Cleared
1. Kevin Strickland, exonerated after wrongful conviction for murderSource:GoFundMe/Tricia Rojo Bushnell 1 of 18
2. Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil IslamSource:Getty 2 of 18
3. Juwan Deering3 of 18
4. Herbert Alford
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A Michigan man who spent nearly five years in custody is suing Hertz for failing to produce in a timely manner a receipt that would have proved his innocence long before he was convicted of a 2011 murder. https://t.co/kZaI5tdOv4— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 12, 2021
5. Walter Forbes
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“I don’t hold contempt for the people who lied to convict me ... The reason is selfish: I wasn’t going to allow them to destroy me," said Walter Forbes, freed and exonerated last week after 37 years with the help of @UofMInnocence. https://t.co/WfanIitchU— The Innocence Project (@innocence) December 14, 2020
6. Termaine Joseph Hicks
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An innocent Philadelphia man has been freed after spending 19 years in prison because two police officers wrongly claimed he’d raped a woman and then shot at them, when he’d in fact saved her from a different man .Attorneys for Termaine Joseph Hicks claim cops made up the story . pic.twitter.com/FJp5DQUMoQ— HJ (Hank) Ellison (@hjtherealj) December 18, 2020
7. Clifford Williams, Nathan Myers
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After a combined 86 years incarcerated for a crime they did not commit, Clifford Williams Jr. and his nephew, Nathan Myers, were exonerated and released last week! Mr. Myers was 18 when he was arrested and is now 61. Mr. Williams was 33 and is now 76. https://t.co/EH2qPCspEj— Equal Justice Initiative (@eji_org) April 5, 2019
8. Calvin BrightSource:WUSA9 8 of 18
9. Kevin Baker, Sean Washington
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Kevin Baker and Sean Washington received life terms in 1996 that were overturned on appeal in December https://t.co/MSWoxkwPzi— Courier-Post (@cpsj) February 4, 2020
10. Theophalis Wilson
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Theophalis Wilson was 17-years-old when he was falsely accused of a triple murder in Philadelphia and sentenced to life in prison. Now, 28 years later, he finally has his freedom. He spoke with @KeithJones https://t.co/mVDISp68hy pic.twitter.com/RQ2pEdZBfM— NBC10 Philadelphia (@NBCPhiladelphia) January 22, 2020
11. Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins, and Andrew Stewart
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And they are out: Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart walk out of the Baltimore city courthouse after 36 yrs for a crime they didn’t do: pic.twitter.com/5UDGWMZmOB— Tom Jackman (@TomJackmanWP) November 25, 2019
12. Deandre Charles12 of 18
13. Exonerated Five - Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise13 of 18
14. Anthony Ray Hinton
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Name: Anthony Ray Hinton, who was on Alabama’s Death Row for nearly 30 years for a murder he didn’t commit. In 2018, he wrote about his experience in the NYT bestseller, The Sun Does Shine.— City of Birmingham (@cityofbhamal) October 4, 2019
Occupation: Works in community education with the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery pic.twitter.com/EwiaJueimb
15. Lamar Johnson15 of 18
16. Wilbert Jones
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Louisiana man freed from prison after serving 43 years for a crime he did not commit. Wilbert Jones was arrested in 1971 at the age of 19 and convicted of rape in 1974. A judge overturned his conviction weeks ago. He still had to pay $2,000 bail before becoming a free man today. pic.twitter.com/LYV4gbTPOf— Joel Franco (@OfficialJoelF) November 15, 2017
17. Xavier DavisSource:Courtesy of Xavier Davis 17 of 18
18. Huwe Burton
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2,372nd Exon: Huwe Burton was convicted in 1991 for stabbing his mother to death when he was 16. He was exonerated on Jan 24th after an investigation showed that his confession was coerced and that his mother's real killer was likely a downstairs neighbor. https://t.co/TM3f76moQ5 pic.twitter.com/rsU1NlPr2y— Exoneration Registry (@exonerationlist) February 4, 2019