The procedure for handling criminal suspects in Los Angeles County between their arrest and their first court appearance several days later changed Sunday. Most suspects are no longer jailed during that period nor are they required to post bail to be released.
Instead, people charged with less serious, non-violent crimes will be cited or booked and released or briefly detained while a magistrate (a judge who will not see or hear the suspects) considers the risk of whether or not the suspects will cause harm. go to their courts. court, and sets the conditions of their release or orders them to jail until their arraignment, their first hearing before a judge.
The new system is a great step forward for justice. Decisions about people’s freedom in the first days after arrest will no longer be based on whether they could pay the court or a bail bondsman.
But there are at least two ways things could go wrong.
On Friday, just two days before the new program began, 12 cities sued to block it. Others are expected to join them in the coming days.
These cities and their police departments appear unconvinced or unaware of academic studies in multiple jurisdictions that show eliminating money bail actually reduces crime and increases the likelihood that defendants will appear for trial.
In recent weeks, police have persuaded the court to allow officers to request that any suspect be referred to a magistrate, even if the alleged crime requires only a summons or a summons and release.
That could pose a problem. If every officer seeks jail time after arrest for every suspect, and every magistrate gives police the benefit of the doubt, the new program will fail. Jails could once again fill up with people accused of minor crimes that the court has already decided do not warrant incarceration before arraignment.
The program could also fail if suspects released with summonses fail to show up to court or commit new crimes. The public will lose faith and demand a return to the old system, despite its numerous failures.
When considering solutions to these challenges, it is important to remember that the options at the time of arrest are not binary: monetary bail or unconditional release. There may be conditions of release not related to money. Defendants could be ordered to stay away from alleged victims and witnesses, for example, or they could be required to report to work or receive substance abuse treatment to maintain their freedom in the days before arraignment. .
Los Angeles County government also has an important role to play. Must provide services to defendants, such as text message reminders to show up to court, transportation to get there, a counselor on the phone to help them explain and navigate the system, and treatment programs to help them stay out of trouble .
Los Angeles County has already established a Department of Justice, Care and Opportunities as part of its Care First initiative, and began its work long before the court announced its new pre-indictment protocol in July. Many of the services are ready. Others will require supplemental county funding and staffing, and the transfer of core pretrial service functions from the Probation Department. Such a move would follow the lead of Santa Clara County, which has had a pretrial services department for decades that operates independently of law enforcement.
But the conditions of release and pretrial services should be considered interim measures. They would be unnecessary in the early stages of the criminal justice process: if a defendant could obtain a court hearing, with a lawyer, within 24 hours, and if in that time the judge could hear from the alleged victims, witnesses and the prosecutor, and if a complete criminal history and a description of the circumstances of the accused are available.
In California, up to a week can pass between arrest and arraignment, and even longer for suspects who were released after arrest.
Songhai Armstead, a former Los Angeles Superior Court judge, was sworn in Monday as director of JCOD, but he has actually led the department since its inception. Last week he told the Board of Supervisors that the ultimate goal should be to achieve a turnaround in 24 hours, with night courts and round-the-clock prosecutions.
She is correct. Such a process more appropriately balances the constitutional rights of the accused and the public’s demand for safety. Until Los Angeles is ready to do that, the Superior Court’s new pre-prosecution protocol is the best option, and the court, county, police and elected officials must do everything they can to make it work.