“Excessive bail will not be required, or excessive fines imposed, or cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.”
United States Constitution, Amendment VIII
In most states, after reviewing a defendant’s charges, taking into consideration the seriousness of the offense, looking at previous criminal history, and weighing the probability of a defendant’s future appearance in court, a judge will either set bail, deny bail, or often times release a defendant on their own recognizance.
SB 10, which is awaiting action by the California Assembly next year, seeks to change, or as they say ‘reform’ the current system, by replacing a judge’s evaluation of a defendant and the circumstances, with a computer algorithm to determine if a defendant will be released on their own recognizance, depending on their “public safety assessment score.” While New Jersey, New Mexico, Colorado and the District of Columbia have adopted such systems, Bob Andrzejczak, a New Jersey Assembly Member publicly reached out to California, stating that legislators in his state made a horrible mistake in doing so.
Computerized risk assessments and no bail release recommendations have a high failure to appear rate – 21% versus 3.8% for defendants released on bail. (Statistics related to a Houston based U.S. District Court Judge.) No-bail release recommendations in San Francisco and New Jersey resulted in homicides in both states. Despite this, SB 10 supporters are adamant that a computerized system for no bail release of defendants: won’t endanger their victims, won’t endanger others, will make them faithfully appear at all hearings, and ensure that they will appear at trial. What happens if or when something goes wrong? Do overly burdened law enforcement agencies have the time or resources to ensure that all people scheduled for a hearing are present and accounted for?
Judges already have the authority to modify bail or release people on their own recognizance based on the circumstances. But, when needed, the Commercial Bail System has provided for the appearance of the defendant in court, at no cost to the tax payer. It has been working for over one hundred years.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
Attributed to T. Bert (Thomas Bertram) Lance
Director of the Office of Management and Budget in Jimmy Carter’s 1977 Administration