Fight to stop zero-bail policy in LA County far from over

Jessica De Nova Image
Monday, December 11, 2023
Fight to stop zero-bail policy in LA County far from over
More than a dozen cities want to end the controversial policy, but after a judge's decision on Monday, it's back to the drawing board.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- It's back to the drawing board for more than two dozen Los Angeles County cities who say they want to put an end to the controversial zero-bail policy.

The cities filed for an injunction to postpone implementation of the policy in October, but on Monday, Orange County Superior Court Judge William Claster did not make a decision, instead giving the cities more time to file an amendment.

"We'll be looking to address the issues the court has raised, and we'll have to consult with our clients before we can determine what that's going to look like," said attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow, who's representing the cities.

The policy went into effect in October, ending the years-long standard of setting cash bail amounts for defendants commensurate with the severity of the crime they are accused of committing -- a process critics say favors the rich while doing little to protect public safety.

The new policy eliminates the existing cash bail system for all but the most serious of crimes. It ushers in a major change in how the court system deals with people who are arrested and how long they stay in custody. The zero-bail applies to misdemeanors and specific non-violent felonies.

Twenty-nine L.A. County cities - including Whittier - announced a lawsuit designed to block the policy.

They sought an injunction to postpone implementation of the new bail schedule, and says it was backed by Arcadia, Artesia, Covina, Downey, Glendora, Industry, Lakewood, La Verne, Palmdale, Santa Fe Springs and Vernon.

"We understand there are times when zero bail is appropriate on some of these offenses but to basically throw the baby out with the bath water ... that's what they did in this, and they didn't come talk to us," said Whittier Mayor Joe Vinatieri.

The zero-bail system, officially dubbed by the Los Angeles Superior Court as Pre-Arraignment Release Protocols, or PARP, largely eliminates the existing cash bail system for all but the most serious of crimes. Most people arrested on suspicion on non-violent or non-serious offenses will either be cited and released in the field or booked and released at a police or sheriff's station with orders to appear in court on a specific date for arraignment once they are actually charged with a crime.

Arrestees who are believed to present a heightened threat to the public or be a flight risk will be referred to a magistrate judge, who will review the case and determine whether the person should be held in custody pending arraignment or released under non-financial restrictions such as electronic monitoring.

Once a person is charged and appears in court for arraignment, a judge could change or revoke the defendant's release conditions.

The new system is borne from long-held criticism that cash bail favored the rich, meaning well-heeled people arrested for even the most serious of crimes could pay their way out of jail, while low-income people languished behind bars for far lesser offenses. The new system is based not on cash, but on the risk an offender presents to public safety or the possibility the person might fail to appear in court.

The county implemented a zero-bail system during the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to prevent crowding in jails. Then in May, an L.A. judge issued a preliminary injunction essentially reinstating the system by ordering an end to cash bail by the Los Angeles police and sheriff's departments.

The Los Angeles Superior Court in July announced plans for the PARP system, with Presiding Judge Samantha Jessner saying, "A person's ability to pay a large sum of money should not be the determining factor in deciding whether that person, who is presumed innocent, stays in jail before trial or is released."

But the idea of zero-bail has generated public safety questions -- with some county supervisors noting that their offices have been swamped with calls from residents concerned about the system, particularly following a recent wave of mob-style smash-and-grab burglaries and reports of suspects in those crimes being arrested but then quickly released, only to commit new crimes.

L.A. County Superior Court's Executive Officer and Clerk David Slayton argues data released at the end of October shows the new schedules works.

"We're looking forward to updating that data so that the public does begin to see, really, the fruits of the data shows it's working as we anticipated it would," he said.

A status conference has been set for March 8, 2024.

City News Service contributed to this report.