Ending wealth-based detention

 
 

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C A L I F O R N I A

Since its founding, Civil Rights Corps has sought to end wealth-based pretrial detention in California. California counties detain people pretrial at a far higher rate than the rest of the country. Consistently over 63 percent of prisoners in county jails have not been sentenced, but are serving time because they cannot afford to pay bail. Studies have calculated California’s median bail as being five times greater than that for the rest of the country. As a result, almost all arrestees who are able to secure release through payment of money bail do so by paying non-refundable fees to private bail bond companies. 

Working in partnership with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Civil Rights Corps has filed over a dozen habeas petitions on behalf of people in jail awaiting trial who were detained solely because they were unable to pay money bail. Several of these petitions resulted in summary reversal by the Court of Appeal and new bail hearings for our clients. After initially opposing these petitions, in October 2017 the California Attorney General dramatically reversed course, stating “The Department of Justice has determined that it will not defend any application of the bail law that does not take into consideration a person’s ability to pay, or alternative methods of ensuring a person’s appearance at trial.” In November 2017, CRC filed four habeas petitions in the Northern District of California, arguing that our clients' ongoing detention was unconstitutional. Three of these petitions have been granted, with the district courts finding that the state courts had violated our client's rights to equal protection and due process by failing to inquire into ability to pay and failing to meaningfully consider alternative conditions of release.

"A BLight on the system": IN RE KENNETH HUMPHREY

 Source:  BallotPedia

Source: BallotPedia

In January 2018, the California Court of Appeal issued one of the best and most thorough bail opinions in modern history. It is a resounding victory for our client, 63-year-old Kenneth Humphrey, and a stinging rebuke of the wealth-based detention system that pervades the City of San Francisco, the State of California, and the entire United States. The case sets a vital precedent, and it will go a long way toward ending our unjust money bail system.

The Court granted a writ of habeas corpus to Mr. Humphrey, a retired shipyard laborer and lifelong resident of San Francisco, who has been confined to a local jail cell since May 23, 2017, because he cannot pay $350,000 money bail. He is still awaiting trial on charges that he followed a fellow resident of his senior living home into the man's apartment and threatened the man, stealing $7 and a bottle of cologne. 

We filed a habeas petition on Mr. Humphrey’s behalf – part of our ongoing partnership with the San Francisco Public Defender – arguing that he was being confined in violation of his constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. The court agreed.

The "Closing Observations" of the court are powerful:
 
"But the problem this case presents does not result from the sudden application of a new and unexpected judicial duty; it stems instead from the enduring unwillingness of our society, including the courts . . . to correct a deformity in our criminal justice system that close observers have long considered a blight on the system.
 
':...[T]he highest judicial responsibility is and must remain the enforcement of constitutional rights, a responsibility that cannot be avoided on the ground its discharge requires greater judicial resources than the other two branches of government may see fit to provide. Judges may, in the end, be compelled to reduce the services courts provide, but in our constitutional democracy the reductions cannot be at the expense of presumptively innocent persons threatened with divestment of their fundamental constitutional right to pretrial liberty."

Media coverage

COURT RULING COULD CHANGE STATE'S APPROACH TO BAIL -- SF GATE
January 25, 2018

"A state appeals court cast doubt Thursday on the constitutionality of the bail system in California, saying the common practice of setting cash amounts so high that a suspect can’t afford them is justified only for those who are too dangerous to release before trial." 

READ THE FULL ARTICLE

SAN FRANCISCO SENIOR ACCUSED OF PETTY CRIME FIGHTING $350,000 BAIL -- CBS SF
September 22, 2017

"Kenneth Humphrey, a 64-year-old San Francisco resident who has been in jail for four months because he is unable to post $350,000 bail, is taking on the California’s money bail system."

READ THE FULL ARTICLE

FEDERAL JUDGE: BAIL THAT KEPT SF MAN BEHIND BARS SINCE JULY 'UNCONSTITUTIONAL'  -- SF GATE
November 29, 2017

"A federal judge delivered another blow Wednesday to California’s bail system, overturning the $330,000 bail for a San Francisco man with a long criminal record who has been held since July on charges of home burglary and auto theft."

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ALL HAIL BAIL REFORM -- SF WEEKLY
November 2, 2017

"Kenneth Humphrey, 64, has been in jail since May 23. The retired shipyard worker was arrested last spring after he allegedly followed an elderly neighbor into the neighbor’s home, stealing $5 and a bottle of cologne. The crime was small, but the price he’ll pay is not: Humphrey’s been charged with first-degree residential burglary, elder abuse, and theft. Despite having a clean criminal record for the past 14 years, he was assigned a $600,000 bail. It was later reduced to $350,000 — but it’s still far beyond his financial capacity to pay."

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STATE APPEALS COURT RULING COULD CHANGE HOW BAIL IS HANDLED IN CALIFORNIA -- CBS SF
January 26, 2018

"A state appeals court Thursday ordered a new bail hearing for a San Francisco man accused of stealing cologne and held for $350,000 bail, a move that could change how bail is handled all over California.

"The decision by the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco could abolish the practice of using large bail amounts to detain low-income defendants without giving them detention hearings, according to the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office."

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