What Warnings Does Atlanta Have For California?
Ordinance Causes Many To Skip Court Dates
As Failure-To-Appear cases rise in Atlanta, what does the future hold for California?
California Supreme Court Overrides the People
This past November, California protected the right to cash bail for its citizens with a ballot measure during the 2020 election. However, this past March, California’s Supreme Court has superseded this vote with their most recent ruling. According to the Court’s ruling, no person should have their freedoms limited based on their ability to pay bail. This decision comes after a ruling on the case of Kenneth Humphrey, a shipyard worker whose bail was set to $350,000 after stealing cologne and $7 from his neighbor.
Instead of using a cash bail to ensure that someone shows up for their court date, the Court suggested that judges make use of alternative tracking methods. These methods range anywhere from regular check-ins to electronic monitors. Whether these methods will prove helpful authorities is yet unknown. The court expects that this ruling will significantly impact Black and Latino communities as they are hit hardest by cash bail. The court hopes that these changes will help the people of these communities prepare for their court dates. It also hopes to eliminate some of the cost to the state that comes with holding people in jail.
Ordinance NO. 18-O-1045
As California makes its way into a new age of cash bail, one city, Atlanta, Georgia, has existed without it for over three years. On February 6, 2018, the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, signed Ordinance NO. 18-O-1045 which limits a judge’s ability to set cash bail in the Atlanta Municipal Court.
Under this ordinance, only individuals who have committed certain violent offenses , or are probable safety risks, are viable candidates for cash bail. Considered a risky decision by local law enforcement officials, Ordinance NO. 18-O-1045 has led to a change in the number of defendants who appear for their court dates.
The change was immediately noticeable in the Atlanta Municipal Court. The number of failure-to-appear cases rose from an average of 16,132 for the years 2015-2017 to 22,042 in 2018; an increase of 137%. As the residents of Atlanta became more comfortable with Ordinance NO. 18-O-1045 in 2019, the number of failure-to-appear cases rose further to 38,390, an increase of 174% over the previous year. Compared to the years leading up to the ordinance’s introduction, the change was an even higher 238%. With no signs of slowing in 2021, this increase in failure-to-appear cases does not bode well for the state of California.
The Future Of Bail Reform
As a result of the recent ruling, California citizens now find themselves in a position that most of them voted to avoid. Our state has shown that higher courts can take the right to bail from us against our will. As these reforms continue, we would do well to look upon the lessons learned in Georgia. As more of that state’s counties move towards a cashless bail system, the effect of this change will only become more pronounced over time.
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