California, the largest U.S. state, will be the first in the country to abolish cash bails for suspects awaiting trials on criminal charges.
Governor Jerry Brown signed bail reform legislation Tuesday that, starting in October 2019, will end the frequent practice of requiring defendants to put up money — typically 10 percent of the amount of their bond — to assure authorities they would show up for trial on the charges they face.
Instead, local courts will decide whether to keep a suspect charged with violent offenses in jail if they are considered a threat to society or, in non-violent cases, release them on their promise to return to court to face their charges. They also could be released but monitored with a GPS tracking device so authorities know their whereabouts.
Cash bonds, widely used in the U.S., often mean that poorer defendants remain jailed pending trials, while more financially well-off suspects can afford to pay the bonds and are freed.
"Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly," Brown said.
Even so, critics of the legislation, including the American Civil Liberties Union, said discrimination could still be perpetuated against the poor, if judges decide to keep such suspects jailed rather than release them pending trials.
"It is not the model for pretrial justice and racial equality that California should strive for," the ACLU said.
The law is likely to put 7,000 California bail bondsmen out of business, although the industry could sue in an attempt to block the law from taking effect next year.
The city of Washington also has a cashless bail system, while some other states have approved laws curbing their reliance on the use of cash bonds.