Don’t Let Misleading Arguments Influence Bail Reform
By Eric Siddall
On Feb. 5, San Francisco’s public defender, Jeffrey Adachi, wrote an op-ed for the L.A. Times criticizing judges’ and prosecutors’ bail use in California. His main piece of evidence was the case of People v. Humphrey. Mr. Adachi summarized the Humphrey case facts as follows: Humphrey, a senior citizen, stole $5 and a bottle of cologne from his neighbor. As a result of this crime, Humphrey’s bail was set at $350,000 and he languished in jail for 250 days.
If these were truly the facts then Mr. Adachi would have a very persuasive argument about the injustices of the current bail system. Here is the reality of the case: In the criminal complaint, Humphrey was charged with four counts, including robbery and residential burglary. All of the counts were held to answer after the judge heard the evidence. Humphrey had four prior strike offenses: one for a robbery committed on Oct. 3, 1980, a second and third strike for a robbery and an attempted robbery committed on Jan. 21, 1986, and a fourth strike for a robbery committed on July 31, 1992. Due to California’s three strikes law, Humphrey was facing about 40 years to life – a pretty strong incentive to flee the state.
In the case in question, the victim was particularly vulnerable – a 79-year-old, frail, elderly man required to use a walker. En route to his apartment, the victim was pursued by the defendant who demanded money. The defendant followed the victim into the victim’s apartment and entered his bedroom. There he ordered the victim onto the bed and threatened to put a pillowcase over the victim’s head. The threat prompted the victim to open his wallet and show Humphrey that he only had two dollars. The victim told Humphrey that he had some additional money on the dresser that he saved for his grandchildren’s Christmas presents, which amounted to about five dollars. Humphrey proceeded to demand the victim’s cellphone, but when the victim told him it was password protected, he threw it on the floor. The defendant took the money from both the wallet and dresser and the victim’s cologne. As he was leaving the apartment, the defendant kicked the victim’s walker to another room, leaving the victim disabled.
Were Humphrey’s actions the crime of the century? Of course not. But these facts are a far cry from the narrative that a “senior citizen” spent 250 days for merely stealing $5 and a bottle of cologne.
We need a robust non-ideological public debate on the future of bail. Yet Adachi’s revisionist history of his client’s conduct and his disregard of salient facts – like Humphrey’s conduct and extensive criminal record – undermines the integrity of this discourse.
When setting bail, our judges are supposed to consider various constitutionally mandated factors, including “protection of the public, the safety of the victim, the seriousness of the offense charged, the previous criminal record of the defendant, and the probability of his or her appearing at the trial or hearing in the case.” (Article I, Section 29(f)(3)). This is, of course, why Mr. Adachi conveniently neglected to provide the facts he should have known, since his office represented Humphrey. Failing to mention that his client threatened the 79 year-old victim with violence or that these threats were made while the victim was isolated and vulnerable or that the defendant was facing a life sentence constitute critical omissions.
Mr. Adachi went so far as to write, “even the district attorney concedes he poses no threat to society.” This was a puzzling statement since the appellate opinion in this case, which I am certain Adachi has read, stated that “the prosecutor added that [Humphrey] should be considered a ‘great public safety risk.'”
Mr. Adachi’s attack on public safety is brazen not for the position he takes, but for its glaring lack of candor. The fictitious persona he crafts of Mr. Humphrey, the person caught merely stealing some cologne and some cash, is clearly not the person that we want in custody pending trial. The real Mr. Humphrey, the defendant with the extensive criminal record, the criminal who targets and exploits vulnerable victims – that is the defendant who should be in custody.
Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.