Governor Jerry Brown of California just signed a law that will eliminate the state’s cash bail system, making it the first state in the country to abandon the long-standing system.
And good riddance! Cash bail is antithetical to a fair justice system, as it disproportionately harms low-income defendants while allowing the rich to escape jail, no problem.
Take Harvey Weinstein, for example. Despite the serious rape charges against him, he was able to get out of jail before trial by easily paying his $1 million bail. People with normal income levels and below who can’t pay sky-high bails are often forced to choose between taking a plea deal for a crime they may not have committed or sitting in jail for weeks or months before their case goes to trial.
Of all guilty pleas made in 2017 for federal crimes, 97 percent come from plea bargains, not from trials. The court systems, both nationally and locally, are not built to handle that many trials—if a larger portion of those cases went to trial, the entire court system could grind to a halt.
But the cash bail system all but forces guilty pleas from defendants. Take Portland’s Virgil Lee Adams, for example, who spent 16 months in jail before his trial even began, causing him to miss the birth of his child. Many defendants charged with low-level crimes would rather spend a short amount of time in jail or on probation after pleading guilty than spend unending months waiting to be given a court date. The only thing stopping them from walking free is a lack of money—so why should the state waste money keeping them in jail rather than let them free?
Kudos to California for seeing the injustice that is the cash bail system. We only hope Oregon will soon follow suit.