A Los Angeles judge has ruled that forcing inmates to post cash bail when they cannot afford to pay is a violation of their constitutional rights.
LA County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Riff ruled on Wednesday in favor of a group of six activists who sued against the county, alleging that the previous system favored the wealthy. All plaintiffs say they suffered under the cash bond system.
They testified that because they could not afford bail, they missed work, which hurt their families.
Being imprisoned, even for short periods, can cause them to lose their jobs, housing or custody of their children. They suffer all the harms of confinement in a prison cell even though a large proportion of them will never be formally charged with any crime, let alone convicted, ‘reads a section of the lawsuit.
Judge Riff said in his ruling that he believes it is unconstitutional to keep people behind bars just because they are in poverty is not a legal form of punishment.
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Los Angeles County removed cash bail to address overcrowding issues.
The current ruling will remain in effect for 60 days, during which time the city and county must develop a “constitutionally sound, effective and practical” plan to handle those arrested for minor offenses.
DA Gascon’s soft-on-crime approach comes under fire as violent crime spikes in LA
Those who commit a second crime while awaiting trial on other charges will be subject to cash bail when re-arrested.
On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department acknowledged the judge’s decision and that it met guidelines.
The decision means those arrested for misdemeanor and non-violent “will be released on bail or subject to non-monetary conditions,” according to the department.
The department will allow those arrested for crimes including theft, shoplifting, drug use, vandalism and battery to be released, reports Los Angeles Fox.
Those arrested for crimes such as sex offenses, domestic violence and weapons violations are exempt from the new policy.
Los Angeles Assistant Attorney General John McKinney told the outlet that the judge invited law enforcement officials to come forward and challenge his decision. McKinney said Riff was surprised when no one showed up.
While former LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva told Fox he would have spoken out against the decision.
“The biggest impact isn’t going to be on the sheriff’s department, LAPD. It will be up to the other 45 municipalities that have their own police departments, as they now bear the burden of having to turn their own inmates over to court until arraignment before they can be taken into sheriff’s custody. That will be the biggest impact,” he said.
Riff said the plaintiffs had shown “a large amount of evidence” showing the damage caused by the cash bond system. They also demonstrated that cash bail had little or no impact on overall crime figures.
A report on the success or failure of the new system will be made on May 5th.
Gascon has been accused of letting 10,000 cases pile up and pushing dozens of prosecutors to resign
The decision came just as Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon was accused of allowing up to 10,000 cases to pile up and causing many prosecutors to resign.
Described as an “authoritarian” and “toxic” manager, Gascon is said to have hunted talent, demoted top lawyers and fought anyone with opposing views, multiple sources who worked with the DA told the New York Post.
Gascon’s ‘wake-up’ policies have caused public distrust, according to a former Los Angeles prosecutor – who said generous plea deals get felons out of jail without serving time or crimes are not at all prosecuted.
“In my career as a prosecutor, I have never seen the families of the victims hate us until I walked into this office,” a former assistant district attorney told the Post. “We are hated by all the victims because of the lack of prosecution and light sentences because of his policy.”
“Gascón is so focused on justice for black and brown defendants, but the victims and their families are also black and brown. Where is the justice for them? We are again making them victims of the criminal justice system.
Eric Siddall, vice president of the LA County Assistant District Attorneys Association, said the office’s reputation has been destroyed.
“People know he is hostile to his employees,” he said.
“He has an authoritarian management style and engages in retaliatory acts against employees who do not share his ideology,” he told The Post.
There are reportedly more than 200 vacancies in the district attorney’s office, with few candidates willing to fill them, sources told the Post.
Lack of staff has resulted in a backlog of up to 10,000 cases.
The prosecutor’s office disputed that claim, insisting it had just 139 vacancies, and blamed the understaffing on “retirement and a previous hiring freeze” – but did not mention the 10,000 cases that have not yet been filed.
“During the hiring freeze, our office requested permission from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to fill positions, but that request was denied,” a source from the LA County office said.
“During this administration, some prosecutors left for other jurisdictions, while others were hired by our office in other jurisdictions.”
The bureau argued that there are many reasons why a case is not filed immediately, including the need for further investigation.
“A delay in filing a case does not preclude the prosecutor from filing a case at a later date as long as it is within the statute of limitations,” according to the prosecutor’s office.
Former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, who led the office from 2000 to 2012, told the Post that historically recruiting hadn’t been a problem until Gascon takes office.
But the lack of talent comes as no shock to Cooley.
“I’m not surprised because some of the people he brought in are just obnoxious people. Who would want to come and work here under such conditions?” Cooley said.