Twelve Los Angeles County cities filed a lawsuit Friday seeking to postpone the controversial new zero-bail policy that allows some nonviolent defendants charged with felonies or misdemeanors to be cited and released after being arrested.
The cities of Whittier, Arcadia, Artesia, Covina, Downey, Glendora, Industry, Lakewood, La Verne, Palmdale, Santa Fe Springs and Vernon are seeking an injunction to postpone the implementation of the Los Angeles County Superior Court's zero-bail schedule, which went into effect Sunday, according to a news release from the city of Glendora.
The new bail policy was imposed by court officials who argued that a defendant's ability to pay bail should not be the key factor in determining whether they stay in jail after an arrest. The so-called zero-bail schedule has been a controversial issue around the country, with criminal justice reform advocates arguing that pretrial releases should be based on an individual’s criminal history not on an arbitrary dollar amount.
Under the new schedule, almost all defendants accused of nonviolent felonies or misdemeanors in L.A. County will either be cited and released or freed on certain terms and conditions after judicial review within 24 hours of arrest, according to L.A. County Presiding Judge Samantha Jessner.
“A person’s ability to pay a large sum of money should not be the determining factor in deciding whether that person, who is presumed innocent, stays in jail before trial or is released,” Jessner said in a July statement unveiling the new policy. “Any determination of an arrestee’s status after arrest but before being charged should be based on an individualized determination of risk and likelihood to return to court. A low-risk arrestee should not be held in jail simply because they cannot post the necessary funds to be released pending arraignment.”
The cities seeking the injunction claim that the bail schedule will result in a "significant increase in criminals released back into the community" after their arrest.
“It is our duty to this community to ensure the safety of those who live here, work here, and visit,” Glendora Mayor Gary Boyer said in the release. “The zero-bail schedule fails to support local leaders in their pledge to protect their residents, and that is unacceptable.”
Under the new bail schedule, judges can also institute non-financial conditions of release, including home supervision overseen by probation officials or electronic monitoring, according to the schedule. A judge will be available at all hours, seven days a week, to make those determinations. Defendants arrested on supervised release or on parole won't be eligible to be cited and released and will face judicial review.
Misdemeanor offenses that will still require cash bail include domestic battery, stalking and violation of a protective order, according to the new schedule. People accused of manslaughter, rape, murder and most types of assault will still have to pay high cash bail amounts. Felony defendants including those accused of battery on a peace officer, sex with a minor and human trafficking will require a judicial review before being released.
Whittier officials urged more comprehensive case reviews, citing previous experiences in which police officers were unaware of an arrestee's prior bookings or citations in other jurisdictions. Officials said they were concerned that the zero-bail schedule could be dangerous to public safety, "particularly where someone arrested for a crime while already on zero bail gets released immediately to re-offend."
“At the local government level, our number one responsibility is to keep people safe,” Whittier Mayor Joe Vinatieri said in a news release. “It has become increasingly difficult to ignore the challenges our communities are facing and what happens when there are no consequences for breaking the law."
After L.A. County implemented a zero-bail policy for many offenses to ease jail crowding during the pandemic, some police officials said it resulted in an increase in crime and recidivism. A report to the Board of Supervisors showed, however, that failure to appear and re-arrest rates remained relatively unchanged during that time.
Times staff writer James Queally contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.