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California becomes first state to fully abolish cash bail

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D). Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D). Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

California has become the first state to abolish cash bail, a step that advocates say will prevent poor defendants from being incarcerated because they are unable to pay their set bail.

The details: Under the measure, which goes into effect in October 2019, most suspects arrested for low-level offenses or nonviolent felonies would be released within 12 hours of being booked. Those facing more serious, violent felonies would be ineligible for pretrial release.

Judges would also rely on a new pretrial assessment process to consider factors including previous offenses and flight risk, for each defendant. This is to ensure released individuals don’t pose a public safety threat.

"California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly."
— Gov. Brown (D), who signed the bill into law, in a statement.

The other side: Criminal justice reform advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union which was one of the early supporters of a prior version, now believe the law could do more harm than good. The ACLU supports eliminating bail, but said the measure in its current from gives courts too much power.

“We oppose the bill because it seeks to replace the current deeply-flawed system with an overly broad presumption of preventative detention. This falls short of critical bail reform goals and compromises our fundamental values of due process and racial justice.”
— The ACLU of California said in a statement.