Los Angeles County is set to enact a zero-bail policy starting Wednesday, following a Superior Court judge’s ruling that incarcerating individuals solely due to their inability to pay bail is a serious violation of the constitution. The decision has ignited a debate, with proponents considering it a fair system, while law enforcement expresses concerns about the potential consequences for public safety.
Under the new policy, suspects accused of nonviolent offenses such as theft, shoplifting, drug use, vandalism, and battery will not be detained by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD). This means that individuals arrested for these crimes will be released immediately without the need to pay bail before their arraignment.
John McKinney, a Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles County, highlighted that Judge Lawrence Riff called upon California officials, including the sheriff, chief of police, district attorney, and city attorney, to testify and challenge his order. However, no one stood up to oppose it, surprising the judge. McKinney shared insights into the impact of the ruling, particularly on the other 45 municipalities with their own police departments. These departments now bear the responsibility of delivering their own inmates to court until the arraignment, before transferring them into the custody of the sheriff.
Former LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva expressed his disagreement with the judge’s ruling and emphasized that the burden of complying with the order will predominantly fall on the other local police departments. He warned of potential challenges in handling inmate transfers and their impact on law enforcement operations.
Salil Dudani, a civil rights attorney, applauded Judge Riff’s decision, criticizing the current cash bail system as unfair. Dudani argued that the current system does not consider factors such as dangerousness or flight risk but relies solely on an individual’s financial ability to secure their release. He stressed the need for a fairer and more sensible approach.
However, it is important to note that the zero-bail policy does not offer second chances for those who violate the bail schedule. In such cases, individuals will be subject to the traditional cash bail system.
As the zero-bail policy goes into effect, the county anticipates ongoing discussions and evaluations of its impact on both fairness in the criminal justice system and public safety. The focus remains on finding a balance that upholds constitutional rights, promotes equity, and ensures the well-being of the community.