Back in August, California became the first state in the country to eliminate bail for suspects awaiting trial. Once the new law takes effect on October 2019, the state's cash bail system will be replaced with a risk-based system to figure out if a person is eligible to be released from custody while his/her case is pending.
So how does risk assessment work?
According to the current bail system, a person who is arrested for a criminal offense has a chance to post monetary bail in order to be released from custody before trial is set. The bail money is considered a pledge to appear in all court dates in the future.
Although judges decide the amount of bail based on a bail schedule, the price is typically quite costly. Instead of paying the entire amount, individuals may have an opportunity to pay a percentage—which is non-refundable—of that amount to a bail bonds agent, who will post bail on your behalf.
On the other hand, the new system will figure out if an arrested person should stay in custody according to risk assessment. Counties throughout the state must create agencies to assess each individual to figure out if they are likely to voluntarily appear in court hearings or commit new crimes.
The new system will consider the following factors when determining custody:
- Criminal history
- Socioeconomic background
- Type of personality
There are three tiers: low risk, medium risk, and high risk. Low-risk individuals, who are considered to be a minor threat to public safety or to flee, would be released from custody—with several conditions which do not require a fee. Medium-risk individuals will have to experience another pretrial hearing before a judge to decide if the release is granted or denied. High-risk individuals—arrested for violent felonies, specific sex crimes, a third DUI in the past ten years, and those who failed to adhere to pretrial release conditions in the past five years—will remain in custody.
In regard to the cash bail system, a person with enough money could pay for his/her release from custody—no matter how serious the crime he/she is accused of. By contrast, an individual who is not a threat to society and has limited finances would have to stay in custody.
In essence, the risk assessment system abolishes money as a factor when it comes to release from custody. The elimination of the cash bail system will end disparities based on financial standing and race in the criminal justice system.