In California, defendants are allowed to wait for trial out of incarceration. However, they must make bail. Bail could be in the form of cash, property, or commercial bond. However, only those that make bail can enjoy freedom before trial. Recently, there has been great debate on whether or not it was fair or constitutional for defendants who cannot make bail to remain incarcerated until trial, even when eligible for bail. But a recent ruling by the California Supreme Court might change how courts have been setting and granting bail to defendants.

For instance, moving forward, courts must consider an individual’s financial ability to make bail before setting bail. Additionally, judges must rely more on non-financial conditions for release to give every defendant a chance to enjoy their right of freedom before trial. For more information and help with posting bail, you might want to consider the services of a reliable bail bonds dealer.

How Bail Works in California

When a person is arrested for criminal acts in California, they must undergo a trial to determine whether or not they are guilty as charged. However, it takes time to plan a trial because the prosecution and defense must be well-prepared beforehand. The prosecution needs enough time to gather evidence and prepare a solid case against the accused. The defense team needs sufficient time to gather evidence, find legal help and prepare a strong defense against their charges. A trial that happens soon after arrest may not be effective as both sides of the case will not be adequately prepared for trial.

It means that the defendant might have to remain in jail for some time before the trial date. But, that would be unfair for the arrested person. California law states that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, it will be unconstitutional to detain an innocent person without determining whether or not they are guilty. That is where the issue of bail comes in. California courts are allowed to release defendants on bail on the condition that they will appear before a judge for trial on the set date.

The problem is that there is always no guarantee that the defendant will show up for trial as required. The person might decide to flee to another state or country to avoid the trial. It would not satisfy the interests of justice if that were to happen with most defendants. That is why California courts require defendants or their families to guarantee their pretrial release with cash, property, or commercial bond. The guarantee ensures that the defendant appears in court as ordered until the determination of their case.

The challenge with this is that only defendants who can make bail are allowed freedom. A judge will first determine a defendant’s eligibility for bail. Not all defendants are eligible for bail; specific cases involving extremely dangerous behavior and disregard for human life could cause the judge to deny a defendant bail. But if you are eligible for bail, it would be unfair if you remained in incarceration simply because you cannot afford to secure your freedom.

That has caused the Supreme Court of California to review a few issues that would make it easier for financially-disadvantaged defendants to have their freedom regardless of their inability to make bail. The Supreme Court proposes to local courts to consider non-financial conditions, other than releasing defendants only on their ability to post bail. If a defendant is not a threat to him/herself or their community and is willing to appear for trial, courts must find other conditions for granting their freedom and not necessarily their ability to post bail.

Supreme Court of California’s Humphrey Decision Regarding Bail

A defendant’s release from jail pending trial is always done on the condition that he/she will show up for trial. Unfortunately, courts do not have a non-financial way of ensuring that defendants will honor the end of their bargain. A financial condition is set and set high to discourage defendants from skipping bail. The condition is that the defendant forfeits bail if they fail to appear. When the bail is set high, a defendant could incur a significant loss if they fail to appear. An alternative is usually a valuable property that the defendant could lose if they were unable to appear.

Unfortunately, setting bail high does not work for all situations. Some well-meaning defendants would give anything to enjoy pre-trial freedom but might never have the chance due to a high bail. As a result, most of them remain incarcerated even when they are eligible for bail. It becomes unfair for them because the only reason for staying in jail before trial is their financial disability.

It is a significant concern for most people, especially attorneys who feel that the law must be fair to all, including those who lack the financial ability to make bail. There must be alternative conditions to ensure they show up for trial even though they cannot afford bail.

The only time a defendant must remain incarcerated is if the judge denies them bail. That could happen if the defendant is facing charges for a violence-related offense. The judge might consider the defendant a danger to members of the public. A defendant could also be ineligible for bail if they are a high flight risk. The judge might deny bail if he/she believes that the defendant will likely flee if released before trial. You could be considered a high flight risk if you have a history of failing to appear in court.

But if a defendant is eligible for bail and has not shown any signs of failing to appear, it would be unfair to keep him/her incarcerated for not making bail. Courts must consider the financial ability of defendants, then make a bail decision based on that. If bail is higher than a particular defendant can afford, the judge could consider other factors in determining whether or not to grant the defendant pretrial release.

The Background — Humphrey’s Situation

The decision to reconsider bail conditions by the California Supreme Court started with a 66-year-old, Humphrey. Humphrey’s arrest occurred on 23rd May 2017 for first-degree robbery and burglary. Humphrey is alleged to have committed the offense against an elderly victim of 79 years, causing him bodily injuries. The latter heightened his charges further for committing a cruel crime against an elderly above 60 years. Humphrey's criminal record revealed he had four previous strike convictions and four severe previous felony convictions, all for attempted robbery or robbery.

In the recent case, the complainant, who was also the principal witness, alleged that the defendant had threatened to cover his head with a pillowcase during the commission of the offense. Humphrey also demanded money from his victim. When the victim insisted that he had no money, the defendant took and threw the victim’s phone to the floor. The victim was so scared that he gave the defendant $2, but Humphrey went ahead to steal an additional $5 and a cologne. On his way out, Humphrey moved the victim’s walker to a different room, out of the victim’s reach.

Under normal circumstances, Humphrey would have been considered a dangerous person and could even be denied bail. But during his initial arraignment, Humphrey presented his request for a pretrial release. However, he wanted the judge to release him on personal recognizance as he could not afford to post bail. He used his advanced age to seek the court’s sympathy and strong ties within the San Francisco community to assure his court appearance for trial. Humphrey was unemployed, and his financial situation was terrible at the time. He also did not have any valuable assets at the time to use as collateral for his pretrial release.

Humphrey also cited the minimal value of the property he allegedly stole as proof of how less-severe his charges were. According to him, his prior strike convictions were remote since the most recent of them was in 1992. He had not faced any arrests for 14 years consecutively and had a history of honoring court orders. Humphrey was okay with the judge imposing a restraining order against the alleged victim, even though they lived in the same senior home.

However, the district attorney wanted the judge to set Humphrey’s bail at $600,000, according to the bail schedule. The prosecutor also wanted a protective order issued against Humphrey to protect the elderly victim.

The judge ruled against Humphrey. The court denied the defendant’s request for release on his own recognizance. Instead, the judge set Humphrey’s bail according to the prosecutor’s request. Even though the court acknowledged the defendant's strong community ties, the judge could not ignore the seriousness of the offense and the victim’s vulnerability.

Humphrey went ahead to challenge the judge’s ruling by filing a motion in court for a formal bail hearing and a further petition for release on personal recognizance. For his motion exhibition, the defendant attached a research finding by the criminal justice system, which concluded that black adult offenders in San Francisco are more likely to remain incarcerated before trial than white adult offenders under the same circumstances.

It is noteworthy that Humphrey had earned a high school diploma and completed a drug rehabilitation program while incarcerated in a county jail between 2005 and 2008. After his release, he registered to study at City College and mentored young adults in his community.

The Supreme Court’s Opinion

Robbery is a serious offense in California and becomes graver when committed against an older adult over 60. That is why the court couldn’t deviate from the bail schedule in the case of Humphrey. The court also noted that the defendant had a substance abuse problem that he had failed to address, making him a significant safety risk to the public. Additionally, Humphrey was considered a flight risk since he faced a severe charge whose conviction could attract a lengthy prison time due to his previous strike convictions.

Thus, the formal bail hearing denied his release on personal recognizance and supervised release. However, the judge agreed to reduce his bail to $350,000. But the public defendant argued that Humphrey's financial condition could not make it possible for him to make bail. Thus, the defendant could only remain in jail until the determination of his case. The judge did not say anything regarding the defendant’s inability to make bail. California courts have never considered non-financial conditions for a defendant’s release on bail and whether or not they can address issues like flight risk and public safety.

Further, Humphrey filed another request in the Court of Appeal, stating that an order to pay monetary bail as a condition for pretrial release by someone who lacks financial ability to raise the amount is the same as detaining the accused before trial. Humphrey wanted a release on personal recognizance. If that was not possible, the court could set a restrictive nonmonetary condition for his freedom for the public’s safety. He wanted the court to look into his financial inability to make bail and only order a monetary situation for release if the court was fully convinced of his ability to make bail.

Even after opposing the petition, in the beginning, the Attorney General considered Humphrey’s plea and agreed to allow him another bail hearing. Further, the Attorney General stated that he would never defend any application of the state’s bail law that doesn’t consider a person’s inability to make bail. There must be alternative methods of guaranteeing a defendant’s appearance in court and not monetary conditions alone.

Humprey’s case opened the way for a significant ruling by the California Supreme Court on matters regarding bail. The long-awaited announcement was made on 25th March 2021. In this announcement, the Supreme Court sought to address two critical issues: whether cash/property bond was constitutional and how the court resolved two conflicting issues concerning bail in the California constitution. The Supreme Court’s decision was as follows.

Pretrial detention should not be based on a defendant's ability to pay. All defendants must be accorded their fundamental right to release on bail, regardless of their financial ability. Courts can only deny bail in unusual and narrow circumstances.

In Humphrey's situation, the court’s order for Humphrey to make monetary bail as a condition for release was not unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s ruling was that courts could set money bail, but it should be set within the defendant’s ability to pay. Thus, courts must not always rely on bail schedules to set bail.

The Challenges Judges Are Facing As a Result

The Supreme Court’s Humphrey Decision about bail has left many judges confused on how they should treat bail. The common practice by trial courts of conditioning a defendant's freedom on their ability to make bail is now unconstitutional. If a court has to attach a financial condition, it must consider the defendant’s ability to make the predetermined bail. Courts are no longer at liberty to detain a person solely because of their inability to raise bail.

Trial courts are now treating all cases as no-bail lest they violate the Supreme Court’s ruling. The Supreme court ruled that the circumstances for no-bail cases must be unusual. In these exceptional circumstances, courts acknowledge that a defendant’s fundamental right to pretrial release might conflict with the court’s need to protect the public. For instance, in Humphrey’s case, the court would have set a higher bail before the Supreme Court’s ruling to make it hard for the defendant to make bail since he was considered a safety threat to the public.

After the ruling, courts must only detain a defendant when there is an absolute need. The judge must find sufficient evidence to support the need to protect the public against a defendant before deciding to detain him/her on the grounds of public safety. That way, the court will comply with the constitutional and statutory requirements of bail according to the recent ruling.

The most important is for courts to follow equal protection and due process principles. It means that judges should not order pretrial detention unless in cases where the defendant can pay bail but has failed to make the required bail, or the court does not have any other means of ensuring that the defendant will appear in court as ordered. Courts can also detain a defendant if the defendant cannot make bail and the court lacks nonmonetary conditions for pretrial release that would be sufficient to assure the defendant’s appearance in court.

Find a Reliable Bail Bondsman Near Me

Matters regarding California bail could be confusing to you and might pose a challenge when you or your loved one is facing arrest. But a reliable bail bond agent in  Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside, San Diego, and San Bernardino will be up to speed with the current legal issues and could offer adequate guidance and legal advice to ensure that your rights are protected, and your best interests served. At 24 Hour Online Bail Bonds, we are reliable, affordable, and fast for bail processing. Call us at 800-930-8999, and let us begin the bail process soon after your arrest.