Elimination of Money Bail. Who will bail out the industry?

“Booking” suspects includes registering a person’s name, birth date, and physical features. Information about the alleged crime is recorded, with fingerprints and photographs. Personal possessions (i.e., cell phone, keys, cash) are impounded with the intention of returning them when the person is freed.

Opportunities to make a telephone call depends upon the U.S. state in which a person is apprehended. Whether a person has a criminal record and/or was arrested for a misdemeanor versus a major crime also determines the likelihood of being released with a simple citation, which a person signs as an assurance he or she will show up for a later court date.

Considering whether one is a known lawbreaker, the severity of any prior offense, whether he or she is regarded as a “flight risk” (likely to flee) or as a person with ties to a community (rather than being a danger to it), a judge may decide to release a person on one’s own recognizance. If one is released after receiving a court date and is later a “no-show,” a warrant for the person’s arrest typically will be issued. The cash payment bail system commences with a bail hearing, which considers one’s mental and physical stability, a criminal or substance abuse background, one’s access to cash or other assets, a track record for court-related absenteeism, and how many years a person has resided in his or her particular community.

Some American states may detain a suspect without offering the cash payment bail system or with a bail amount set too high for a suspect to feasibly pay. This usually will keep the person in custody so, theoretically, the alleged offender and/or his community will remain safer — a form of preventive detention. Other times, the bail is set high enough to help ensure that the alleged offender who pays will want that money back and, subsequently, he or she:

  • shows up for the next court date
  • does not participate in witness tampering
  • does not commit a crime while avoiding preventive detention
  • does not do anything to interfere with the path of justice as it relates to his or her court case.

If an individual lacks the money to post bail, he or she may make arrangements with a bail bondsman — a representative from a bail bond company that will pay and ensure the individual’s bail bond will be covered. The bail bond company’s pay rate in this risk-based system is normally a nonrefundable 10 to 20 percent of the bail amount. Consequently, the bail industry bondsman also confirms that the bail bond company will pay the balance due to the court if the defendant neglects his or her obligation to show up for the court procedures.

The professionals in this industry conscientiously participate in this risk-based system, which inherently contains room for improvement. Industry-related food for thought maybe discovered by observing bail reforms of California lawmakers. In the upcoming November 2020 election, California lawmakers and bail bond company representatives are expecting voters to determine the fallout from Senate Bill 10.

Senate Bill 10 became a law on August 28, 2018, with enforcement to begin on October 1, 2019. The new law abolishes California lawmakers’ current cash bail system. Instead, California lawmakers’ bail system mandates that arrested detainees be subjected to a pretrial risk assessment, leading to categorizing the person as low, medium, or high risk. Low-risk suspects will be released relatively quickly on their own recognizance or released with other supervision requirements.

Opponents of the law include the American Bail Coalition, which created a political action committee with the goal of a voter-supported veto referendum to overturn the new law. Advocates of a new bail system suggest that bail reforms will improve statistics that confirm a disturbing percentage of minorities (all under the presumption of innocence until and unless proven guilty) are victims of bail rates they cannot pay. If minorities are unfairly targeted and burdened, then the bail industry (including American Bail Coalition members) has to bail itself out by developing fairer solutions. That is just one example of where the bail industry may address needs for bail reforms and further new bail system improvements.

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