The California state law that would have eliminated cash bail for defendants will now be left up to voters in the 2020 election, after opponents of the bill gathered the more than 400,000 signatures necessary to get the measure on the ballot.
For those in the state’s bail bond industry, the recently announced decision is a sigh of relief considering most of them would have been out of a job if the law took effect in October as planned.
But even though Bail Central Bail Bonds owner David Wetzel believes bond should not be eliminated, he does believe there needs to be some kind of reform.
“I disagree with some of the ideas (legislators) were putting forth to control bail as an evil force that prevents people from being released from custody,” Wetzel said.
The discussion leading up to the law that was ultimately signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) in August was offensive to Wetzel, who said his industry is often made scapegoat for issues like jail overcrowding.
Wetzel argues that the bail schedule, which he claims is closely aligned with dollar amounts set in LA County, are too high for people in SLO County and directly correlates to jail overcrowding.
“Fees have been unnecessarily high and it prevents us from writing more bail,” Wetzel said. “The lower the risk, the easier it is to write bail and more people get out.”
In the SLO county bail schedule [posted online, bond for a DUI offender with a prior felony conviction is listed at $100,000, felony theft carries a $20,000 bond and $4,000 is listed as the bond for selling tobacco to a minor, a misdemeanor.
The bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown would eliminate bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, allowing a judge to instead base release on a “risk assessment.”
“It’s basically asking our probation officers to use a tool to collect info about a defendant, then make a prediction about whether they’ll make another offense, are they likely too?” SLO County District Attorney Dan Dow had said when interview about the issue back in August. “That’s difficult to do because each person’s different.”
Dow also noted at the time that he likes how the law would take a defendant’s finances out of discussion.
But even Dow who wasn’t available for an interview for this report had reservations about bail reform.
While bondsmen across California mourned the impending loss of a job, Wetzel planned on retirement. But he said the bail system is needed to ensure defendants appear in court.
“It’s really important that we keep to the bail system, lower the bail schedules and make it more fair for everybody,” Wetzel said.