The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has recently passed a resolution that strongly favors pretrial release alternatives to the conventional bail system that operates in many states, California prominently among them, with high jail populations the result.
Here’s the opening statement of their resolution:
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers believes pretrial liberty must be the norm and detention prior to trial the carefully limited exception.1 “Unless [an accused’s] right to bail before trial is preserved, the presumption of innocence, secured only after centuries of struggle would lose its meaning.”
To put it in plainer terms, the NACDL believes that most people who have not been accused of serious crimes should be able to get out before trial. Getting out should be the norm, say the PDs. Keeping people locked up before their cases get sentenced or go to trial, should be the exception.
However, particularly in big cities—most notably Los Angeles—the opposite is true. Bails are now set so high that a large percentage of people cannot afford the 10 percent, nonrefundable fee that a bondsman charges, much less the bail itself, which either must be paid, or one must put up as collateral something of equal or greater value, like a house or some other asset.
As for the worry that most people won’t show up for trial without a hefty bail, studies suggest otherwise.
Timothy Murray, the executive director of the Pretrial Justice Institute, explains in a May interview with State Legislatures Magasine.
“Several years ago the National Institute of Justice, (NIJ), the research arm of the Justice Department, conducted a controlled experiment testing the efficacy of supervised pretrial release. (Supervised pretrial release accountably monitors pretrial defendants in the community using an array of supervision conditions designed to minimize failure to appear in court and re-offending.)
“NIJ’s experiment showed conclusively that randomly assigned defendants who were placed into supervision had better outcomes than those who were released on financial bonds.
“Other studies have shown the costs of supervised pretrial release averages is less than $10 per day, a fraction of the cost of housing, feeding and medical care required for defendants in local jails.”
Naturally the bail bond industry is less than thrilled at the thought of all that income flying out the door.
In the same article, Dennis Bartlett of the American Bail Coalition explains why he believes the existing bail system is better (so if you click through, read both POVs).
In his testimony before the jails commission, Sheriff Lee Baca—to his credit —brought up pretrial release as part of his hoped for reforms that will lower the jail population and, I think, in general he’s for it, if an adequate tool for assessing who is eligible for PTR and, if so, what form.
Whether he will make it enough of a priority to get it done, remains to be seen.
But the sheriff should be commend for taking some first steps.
Photo by WitnessLA