SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Judges must consider suspects’ ability to pay when they set bail amounts, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Tuesday, adding momentum to ongoing talks aimed at finding a better way to make sure suspects show up in court.
Judges should only keep suspects in jail awaiting trial if they are dangerous or are likely to flee, Becerra said.
He sided with a recent appeals court ruling that the state’s bail system unconstitutionally discriminates against poor suspects who languish in jail. Bail is money or property that can be forfeited if suspects fail to appear for trial.
He said he won’t appeal in the case of a 64-year-old San Francisco suspect jailed for more than eight months because he couldn’t make $350,000 bail on charges of stealing $5 and a bottle of cologne from a neighbor in a senior housing complex. The appeals court last month ordered a new hearing to decide whether Kenneth Humphrey should be jailed while awaiting trial on charges including robbery and residential burglary.
“It’s long past time to reduce our dependence on cash bail and stop incarcerating nonviolent offenders for no reason other than them being poor,” Becerra said. “Bail decisions should be based on danger to the public, not dollars in your pocket.”
In this case, Humphrey has a long criminal record and thus faces the potential of a lengthy prison sentence, wrote Eric Siddall, vice president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys in Los Angeles County. He is alleged to have demanded money from a 79-year-old man who uses a walker, then followed the victim into his apartment where he stole the $5.
Humphrey remains jailed, but has a new bail hearing on Thursday.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced a statewide effort to require judges to hold new bail hearings for suspects he said are jailed “simply because they are too poor to purchase their freedom.”
Becerra said the same standards will be considered in other cases that come before his office. He said he has been working with Gov. Jerry Brown and his fellow Democrats in the state Legislature to craft an alternative to the current money bail system.