Crime & Justice

California lawmakers advance bill to reform bail system

State Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, talks with Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, after lawmakers approved his measure to change the state's bail and pretrial release policies on Wednesday, May 31, 2017, in Sacramento. By a 25-11 vote, the Senate approved Hertzberg's bill, SB10, that would end money bail for most defendants. It now goes to the Assembly.
State Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, talks with Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, after lawmakers approved his measure to change the state's bail and pretrial release policies on Wednesday, May 31, 2017, in Sacramento. By a 25-11 vote, the Senate approved Hertzberg's bill, SB10, that would end money bail for most defendants. It now goes to the Assembly.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

California lawmakers advanced a bill Wednesday to dramatically change the state's pretrial release policies by ending bail for most defendants.

The state Senate voted 25-11 to send the measure to the Assembly.

Under the bill, a judge would decide during an arraignment whether to impose bail as a condition of release, taking the defendant's income level into account.

Bail is money or property that can be forfeited if suspects fail to appear for trial.

Sen. Bob Hertzberg said his bill will "bring justice to a failed system."

"The determining factor to any pretrial release should not be the size of your wallet," the Van Nuys Democrat said. "It should be the size of your risk to society."

Other governmental bodies in the state are looking at the issue. On March 8, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors ordered a comprehensive review of the county’s bail system.

In the Senate, Hertzberg said the current system disproportionately hurts poor defendants.

Sen. Nancy Skinner pointed to the case of Sandra Bland, a woman who wasn't able to post bail and died in a Texas jail in 2015. Bland had been charged with assault after she was pulled over for improperly changing lanes by a police officer who was fired for the way he handled the incident.

Meanwhile, wealthy people charged with much more serious crimes like murder can be released from jail if they put up money for bail.

"Our bail system is broken," said Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat. "It is high time we fix it"

Bail is an important tool to pressure people to show up for court and help keep criminals out of society, Sen. Jim Nielsen said. He said he also opposes the bill because it would ruin the bail industry.

"This bill is not ready for primetime," the Gerber Republican said. "I don't know that it ever will be."