A decades-old California law that keeps people in jail if they can’t afford bail after their arrest came under renewed attack Tuesday from San Francisco’s city attorney, who said the city wouldn’t defend the law in court, and a Bay Area legislator, who promised a bill to repeal it.
The law “creates a two-tiered system: one for those with money and another for those without. It doesn’t make anybody safer,” City Attorney said at a news conference as his office informed a federal judge that the city would not fight a civil rights group’s lawsuit challenging the cash bail system.
Defendants who can’t afford bail, or the 10 percent fee charged by bail bond companies, remain behind bars at least until they are formally charged and arraigned, usually 48 hours after arrest. At that point, a judge sets conditions for pretrial release based on the risk to public safety or the chance they might flee.
Bail bond companies say the cash bail system promotes public safety by giving defendants an incentive to show up in court. The civil rights group and other opponents say individual assessment of the potential risk a defendant poses, and supervision to make sure the defendant returns to court, is both fairer and more protective of the public than requiring people to pay for their release.
A lawyer for bail bond companies accused the city attorney and sheriff of violating their oaths of office by failing to support the law.
While the sheriff said she will enforce the law, Harmeet Dhillon, of the Dhillon Law Group, accused Hennessy and Herrera of “refusing to do their duty to defend California’s lawfully enacted statutes.”
“Whether a law is fair or unfair is really not for Dennis Herrera, or Vicki Hennessy, or really for a federal judge to say,” but is a question for the Legislature, Dhillon said. She also noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld laws that treat poor and rich people differently.