A Rush to Judgment Poses a Public Safety Threat

By Eric Siddall
If you need any further proof that state legislators do not value public safety, consider Senate Bill 10 (SB 10)  and Assembly Bill 41 (AB 41) which will change our current bail system. Make no mistake, there is a problem with our current bail system. There is no question that it is unfair to the poor. Nor does it make sense that bail for violent criminals serves any public interest. But these two pieces of legislation are not the solution.
Senate Bill 10 and AB 42 change the bail system drastically. These two bills allow defendants, including those accused of capital crimes that carry the death sentence, to remain free pending their trial if they meet certain criteria.  Further, when considering bail, the legislation gives scant weight to the criminal history of an arrestee or the arrestees’ prior history of failing to appear in court.  The fact that our state constitution prohibits the release of those accused of capital crimes makes no difference to the authors of this legislation. The fact that our state constitution mandates that public safety be the primary factor in weighing pretrial release is ignored by these bills.
The authors of SB 10 claim they are following the federal model. The federal system does not use bail. This part they follow. But in the federal system, if you are a danger to the public, you are not released. You are held without bail. So, what does Sacramento do? True to form, they chop up the federal system and keep the worst while removing the best.
There are other flaws that challenge common sense. Under our current bail system, public safety, the criminal record, and the history of failures to appear are central.  Instead, these bills instruct a court not to give undue weight to factors such as criminal history…”  and “distinguish between failure to appear and willful failure to appear.”  Yes, you read that correctly: the lengthy criminal history of a defendant is now given scant consideration, and if there are past failures to appear it will now have to be shown that was a deliberate decision-an impossible and impractical standard.
Probably the most laughable part of SB10 is the requirement of the individual counties to set up services for defendants to make sure they come to court at their appointed time. Does this mean wake-up calls and room service for our defendants and will a failure to answer the phone call reminding “John the criminal to show up to court” be considered “willful?”
What about the victim? What does the victim get? They get nothing. They get no peace of mind that the person who attacked them is safely away. Instead, they get to go to bed knowing that the person who harmed them is still free. They get to ride the courthouse elevators with the person who raped them. What does Sacramento think is going to happen with cooperative witnesses? Do they really think victims are going to want to come to court when they know the state has turned their back on them? Why should anyone report a crime when our own government re-victimizes the victim and protects the predator?
The question law enforcement needs to start asking is how does the public expect us to ensure its safety when politicians continue to do everything to undermine this goal. Not only have they released convicted felons in the tens of thousands, they now seek to ensure violent defendants remain free to roam the streets while awaiting trial.  A recent Los Angeles Times story examined the drastic fall in arrests rates in California while the crime rate has risen and quoted politicians wondering why this was happening.  Should this legislation pass, it sends another strong signal to law enforcement that they should not even bother with making arrests since the legislature wants defendants to remain free.  When will our state politicians stop prioritizing the criminal and start focusing on the victim?
To read previous ADDA blogs regarding the bail system, please see (1) Does the current bail system penalize the poor? & (2) The Assault on Safety Continues: Eliminating Bail is the Latest Target.
Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. To contact a Board member, click here.
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