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Recent Developments in Bail Law in California

If you ask most lawyers about bail, they will tell you to call a bail bondsman. Many will even suggest you call one that they know and regularly do business with. This is probably not the answer you want to hear when you or someone you love is in custody and has questions about bail.

What you want to hear is how your lawyer can help explain how bail works, what the options are for the client or the client’s family and how recent changes in the law may dramatically reduce the cost of bail.

Bail Reduction

First, when a client is in custody, consider calling the on-call magistrate and asking for a bail reduction. The magistrate may say “no” but there is certainly no harm in calling. Any lawyer in Los Angeles who doesn’t have the telephone number for the bail magistrate is likely someone you should consider not hiring on your case.

Next, consider waiting a day or two until the defendant goes to court. Maybe the case can be resolved without posting bail. Maybe bail can be reduced in court. Here in Los Angeles, about 79% of the misdemeanors prosecuted by the Los Angeles City Attorney come from felony arrests. Thus, if a case gets filed as a misdemeanor, even after a felony arrest, there is a very good chance for a bail reduction once we go to court for the very first hearing.

Posting Bail

Here in California, bail can be posted in cash – either actual cash or cashier’s checks. The checks would be made out to the sheriff. Cash bail is the whole amount of the bail. The county keeps the bail money until the case is over and at that point, the entire amount of bail is returned to the person who posted it.

If you cannot afford to or do not wish to post cash bail, you can use the services of the bail bondsman. This service is much likely buying insurance. We give the bondsman a fee for his services. That fee is normally 7% to 10% of the bail amount. In exchange for the fee, the bondsman posts a “bond” or insurance policy for the full amount of the bail. If the defendant fails to appear in court, the bondsman is on the hook for the entire amount of the bail. If the defendant makes all the court appearances and bail is “exonerated” the bondsman is relieved of any further financial obligation to the court. The defendant does not get any part of the fee back but did not have to put up the entire bond amount.

Changes in the Law

There has been a recent political movement to change the bail system. The arguments put forth in favor of the changes state that the bail system is unfair to poor people who can’t afford to pay the cost of bail. Very recently new case law was established by a Riverside County Appellate Court which has already had a significant effect on bail California.

The Court ruled that the bail laws are Constitutionally flawed. The Court indicated that bail law in California violates the Constitution. The Court went on to say that the court must consider the defendant’s financial condition before setting bail and must consider alternatives to bail.

The Court also reiterated long-time requirements of the prosecutor to establish that the defendant was a risk to public safety should he or she be released from custody. Finally, the Court asserted that the main reason to set bail is to ensure the safety of the public.

What Does This Mean?

The bail system has already begun to change. Judges are now considering the financial condition of a defendant before setting bail. Judges are considering less restrictive conditions of release. This means things like “own recognizance release” or O.R. This is releasing the defendant based solely upon their promise to reappear in court. Judges are now requiring the prosecutors to establish by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant is a threat to the community before setting bail.

Interestingly, the court in First District to make this ruling was considering the case of a third striker. This is a case that would normally carry with it a bail amount of $1,000,000 here in Los Angeles. In San Francisco County the bail schedule was $500,000. This means, even if one were to use a bondsman to post the bail, they would still need to come up with at least $40,000 to post bail. This massive amount doesn’t even factor in the collateral which the bond companies normally require before they will post a bond.

These changes were a long time in coming. If you have questions about bail or any other criminal law matter, call a lawyer who knows the law, call me.

Attorney Jeffrey Vallens (818) 783-5700 or email me at: