What You Need to Know About the California No Bail Law

Word bail in black letters on white wooden dice on wooden gavel with justice figure in background

The history of the no bail law in California is a tenuous one. It is surely a topic to spark debate amongst many Golden Staters.

In 2020, California introduced a no cash bail law to help stop the spread of COVID-19 through the jail population. The law had significant implications for bail reform going forward. However, as many news junkies here know, any bail reform measures in CA are currently on hold.

Below, we take a look at how the no bail law works and what it means for future bail reform.  

What Is Bail in California?

Bail in California represents a covenant between a defendant and the court presiding over the defendant’s criminal case. It follows the same pre arraignment and release protocols as one would largely see in any other state.

Bail is, at its core, an agreement between a defendant and the court system.

A defendant agrees to meet certain conditions of release in exchange for getting out of jail while they await trial. Typically, this means they agree to attend all future court hearings and abide by any other court orders put in place.

Bail amounts are determined by preset bail schedules, but judges normally have some discretion when setting the bail amount. A money bail is paid to the court as a means of avoiding jail before trial. If a defendant cannot post bail, this typically leads to a pretrial detention.

What Is the No Bail Law in California?

Bail reform has been a contentious topic in California for a few years now. Here’s an overview of the most significant developments. As the state has proposed and abolished cash bail before reneging, many major developments have taken place. 

The No Bail Law

In 2020, California introduced the “no bail law”, or SB 262. It was an attempt at reforming the criminal justice system in favor of equity.

The law applied to defendants charged with minor offenses, misdemeanors, and certain felonies. It stipulated that these individuals wouldn’t need to pay bail to secure their pretrial release.

Essentially, the no cash bail law meant that the processing and arraignment procedure for criminal defendants was simplified. But its proposal, though opening the door for some flight risk, wasn’t just about making things easy on defendants. 

The goal of SB 262 was to reduce the number of inmates flocking to California prisons at that time. This would, it was thought, help limit the spread of a new and highly contagious virus, COVID-19. As the COVID-19 pandemic raged on, the no bail law in California helped lower the prisoner population. In fact, by the end of 2020, the total population was reduced by 15%.

However, the law also intended to make the justice system fairer. Defendants were no longer held in jail just because they had limited ability to pay. Moreover, the system would not benefit a defendant simply because they had the means to pay their bail.

The Humphrey Decision

In 2021, during the pandemic, the Supreme Court of California passed a significant judgment in the re Humphrey case. The defendant was arrested for theft and faced exceptionally high bail amounts. In the end, the Supreme Court considered the case and ruled that:

  • It’s unconstitutional to set bail at levels that defendants can’t afford to pay;
  • A defendant’s ability to pay should be considered when setting bail; and
  • Bail should only be unaffordable if detaining the defendant is the only way to protect the public.   

Taken together, the re Humphrey decision and SB 262 suggest that California is making significant strides towards bail reform. However, as of 2023, this is not the case and the no bail law in California seems frozen. Let’s consider why:

Why Was California Bail Reform Paused?

There are two main reasons why the California no bail law is on hold currently. 

  • In 2021, when courts released defendant Troy Davis on zero bail, he continued to break the law, with heinous outcomes. He brutally raped and murdered a woman in Sacramento. He then proceeded to set her house on fire and kill her dogs. 
  • More generally, there is some evidence to suggest that zero cash bail led to an increase in crime. This is especially true of violent crimes, as seen in the Davis case mentioned above.

Given the concerns that bail reform jeopardizes public safety, the no cash bail law was revoked in 2022. Bail reform efforts are, as of right now, held indefinitely.

However, some municipalities, such as LA county superior court, have held the no cash bail policy in place. Here, those accused of a crime are simply booked and released, with returns to court held as the defendant’s responsibility.

What Is the Future of Bail Reform in California?

Despite the California Supreme Court decision, the situation hasn’t changed. In California with no bail law reform, defendants are left to their own devices. We’re still in a position where defendants can’t get bail unless they can afford to pay.

It’s unclear how bail reform will proceed. But there’s hope that counties will be encouraged to start setting more affordable – and more equitable – bail amounts.  

How Long Can You Stay in Jail if You Can’t Make Bail?

Under the California Penal Code, there is an inherent time limit with regard to bail. A defendant must normally be brought before a judge, or charged with a crime, within 48 hours of their arrest. After 48 hours, they must be let go unless charges are filed.

There are exceptions for Sundays and public holidays, but this is the general rule.

Under the California no bail law, defendants would not be held.

How Can Bail Bondsmen Help?

If you can’t afford bail, you may be able to purchase bail bonds. A bail bond is essentially a guarantee that the defendant will comply with bail conditions. This allows for an exchange for release while they’re awaiting trial.

In California, bail bonds are usually around 10% of the total bail amount. You can purchase bail bonds around the clock – after all, the justice system doesn’t sleep.

Get Bail Bonds in California

The no bail law may be in a precarious spot, but that doesn’t stop the gears of justice from turning. Whether or not the no cash bail law is revived or rescinded once and for all, the future is unclear. But as of now, bail bonds continue to be a smart option for some defendants.

Do you need bail bonds in California? Whether it’s day or night, contact us. Our team is on hand 24/7 to get you the bail bonds you need to get your loved ones released as soon as possible.

Visit our offices or call Bail Hotline when you’re in trouble and we’ll do everything we can to help!

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