As reported by the Los Angeles Times, in a momentous decision the California Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to require defendants to remain behind bars because they cannot afford to post bail pending their trial. The new ruling would allow defendants to be set free, as long as they pose little risk of harming others or failing to return to court
Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, writing for the high court, said the state’s current bail scheme violates the constitution. “Whether an accused person is detained pending trial often does not depend on a careful, individualized determination of the need to protect public safety, but merely — as one judge observes — the accused’s ability to post the sum provided in a county’s uniform bail schedule,” Cuéllar wrote.
“If the defendant poses a flight risk or might commit other crimes, the trial court should consider whether nonfinancial conditions of release may reasonably protect the public and the victim or reasonably assure the arrestee’s presence at trial,” the ruling said.
“Judges may still conclude that money bail is reasonable, but they must consider the defendant’s ability to pay, along with the seriousness of the charged offenses and the person’s criminal record, and set bail in an amount the person can afford,” Cuéllar wrote.
Courts also can keep defendants behind bars if judges find by “clear and convincing” evidence that there is no other way to protect public safety and prevent a flight a risk, the court said.