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California Supreme Court says state cannot hold people in jail if they can’t afford to make bail

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The California Supreme Court this week delivered a partial but significant blow to the state’s criminal bail system, ruling that authorities cannot hold prisoners behind bars simply because they’re incapable of meeting a bail payment.

In the ruling, the court said that “other conditions of release — such as electronic monitoring, regular check-ins with a pretrial case manager, community housing or shelter, and drug and alcohol treatment — can in many cases protect public and victim safety as well as assure the arrestee’s appearance at trial.” 

“What we hold is that where a financial condition is nonetheless necessary,” the court continued, “the court must consider the arrestee’s ability to pay the stated amount of bail — and may not effectively detain the arrestee ‘solely because’ the arrestee ‘lacked the resources’ to post bail.”

Pretrial detention, the court argued, “should be reserved for those who otherwise cannot be relied upon to make court appearances or who pose a risk to public or victim safety.”

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