SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Can justice be bought and paid for in California? The median bail amount in the state is $50,000 dollars. County leaders and concerned community members gathered for a town hall meeting to discuss bail reform Wednesday in Santa Maria.
Right now, if you get arrested for a serious crime, you have two options. Post bail, or sit in jail and await a court date. The 10% you would have to pay a bail bondsmen is non-refundable. Using the median amount, what do you do if you don’t have $5,000 just laying around?
One of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system, is that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty.
“The way the bail system is set up, there's no presumption of innocence because if you don't have the money and you don't get out of jail,” said Lawanda Lyons-Pruitt, President of the Lompoc/Santa Maria Chapter NAACP.
Supporters of the California Money Bail Reform Act of 2017 say the system in place right now, gives the wealthy a get out of jail free card.
“If they're rich, they'll get out and it doesn't mean they're safe it means they have money,” said Richard Bobo, Assistant Public Defender, Santa Maria.
Longtime Santa Maria public defender, Ronald Bobo, says many of his clients get stuck in jail because they're poor.
“We’re releasing people because they have money who may still be a danger and we're keeping people in jail, it affects their families their kids, school and they could be released and returned to work,” said Bobo.
Senate Bill 10, making its way through the legislature, would require counties to develop pre-trial release programs.
“Judges will review the cases on a case-by-case basis, we will no longer look at a set bail schedule and and also the judges would release nonviolent offenders with supervision,” said Lyons-Pruitt.
While representatives from local NAACP chapters call it a simple solution, Santa Barbara County's Chief Deputy District Attorney says our bail system is a complex set of statutes with no easy fix.
“Santa Barbara County has a very robust pretrial services program which is really designed to do what SB10 perhaps is trying to do. SB10 has the potential of undoing some of that,” said Mag Nicola, Chief Deputy District Attorney, Santa Barbara County.
Prosecutors also argue that reform will save money because the funds spent on incarceration can be spent on the pre-trial programs and recidivism.