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Controversial zero-dollar bail policy brought to an end in California

The State of California has put an end to the zero-dollar bail policy that was enacted to prevent the spread of coronavirus throughout the state’s jails. 

The California Judicial Council – led by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye – voted 17-2 on Wednesday to end the $0 bail schedule on June 20. The policy has been in effect since April 13, and each individual county superior court will have the option to keep the policy in place once it expires at the state-wide level. 

“The Judicial Council’s action better reflects the current needs of our state, which has different health concerns and restrictions county-to-county based on the threat posed by COVID-19,” said Justice Marsha Slough in a press release. 

“We urge local courts to continue to use the emergency COVID-19 bail schedule where necessary to protect the health of the community, the courts and the incarcerated. We are also asking courts to report back by June 20 on whether they plan to keep the COVID-19 emergency bail schedule, or another reduced bail schedule.” 

Law enforcement officials, a group that had been critical of the policy since the start, were pleased to see the Judicial Court’s decision. 

“We expressed serious concerns about the impact of $0 bail as we felt it would result in inappropriate early release of potentially dangerous offenders and those who would continue to reoffend if not held accountable,” said Eric Nunez, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, in a statement. 

“We applaud the Judicial Council for voting on whether to rescind their $0 bail schedule.” 

On the other end, criminal justice reform supporters spoke out against the Judicial Court’s decision. 

“Do Judicial Council members watch the news? There’s a nationwide uprising against systemic racism, and the council chooses this moment to give counties permission to return to the mass pretrial incarceration of Black and Brown people,” said Alameda County Chief Public Defender Brendon Woods in a statement. 

“Now my only hope is that judges here in Alameda County do better and decide to continue with our local version of the emergency bail schedule. That’s the only way we’re going to keep the virus from spreading in our jails and communities.” 

According to data from the Judicial Court, state jails reduced their population by over 20,000 people over the last couple months. The released defendants were accused of lower-level offenses. Anyone accused of violent felonies, offenses requiring sex offender registration, domestic violence, stalking or driving under the influence were not eligible for $0 bail. 

Along with Wednesday’s vote, Cantil-Sakauye also rescinded her statewide order that had extended the time for defendants to be arraigned to a maximum of seven days. With that repeal effective on June 20, defendants will go back to the normal practice of two-day arraignment window.

Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.