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Manhattan Beach Joins Lawsuit Against Zero Bail

Oct 19, 2023 10:02PM ● By Mb News Staff
With little discussion, the Manhattan Beach City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday night to join a lawsuit against the L.A. County Superior Court's controversial "zero bail" policy.

The lawsuit, originally filed by the city of Whittier, began with 11 cities and is now up to 26. City staff reported that the cost of joining the lawsuit would be $10,000, but that cost may be lower if more cities join. 

L.A. County's Pre-Arraignment Release Protocols, also known as the "zero bail" policy, went into effect on October 1.  The Pre-Arraignment Release Protocols determine release status based on
an arrestees’ risk to public or victim safety and their likelihood of returning to court - while
reducing reliance on money bail as a condition of release for many of those arrested for non-violent, non-serious felonies and misdemeanors. Serious and violent crimes are not affected by the new policy and still require bail; and those who commit capital offenses such as murder are not given the opportunity for release.

The reasoning for the new policy, as explained by the court, is that person’s ability to pay a large sum of money should not be the determining factor in deciding whether the person, who is presumed innocent, stays in jail before trial or is released.

However, in light of recent crimes, there has been public outcry against the policy (which was initially started during COVID, then stopped in May, then started again October 1.)

Zero-Bail Policy

Under the traditional bail schedule model, alleged crimes correspond with specific dollar amounts, which individuals can post as bail to secure release prior to their arraignment. The arraignment is typically held within 48 hours of arrest if the arrestee is detained, regardless of the arrestee’s risk to public safety and likelihood to return to court.

The newly adopted felony and misdemeanor bail schedules, which include the new Pre-Arraignment Release Protocols, replace uniform misdemeanor and felony bail schedules for arrestees before arraignment. 

According to the L.A. County Superior Court, under the protocols included in the new bail schedules, the pre-arraignment release terms will be based on the arrestee’s risk to public and victim safety and likelihood of returning to court. Instead of assigning a money bail amount to low-level, non-violent, non-serious offenses, the majority of these arrestees will be released at the location of arrest or booked and then released on their own recognizance with a promise to appear at arraignment. Those who are arrested for certain crimes that pose a greater risk to the public will be referred to a magistrate, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, who will conduct individual determinations of the appropriate non-financial release terms and conditions that are necessary to reduce the risk to the public and victim safety and the likelihood of the arrestee returning to court.

The Whittier-led lawsuit argues that the zero-bail policy does not adequately provide for public safety.

According to the lawsuit, the zero-bail policy imposes "a blanket lifting of whole swaths of categories from being bailable offenses, and requires only citation and release, or booking and release, as to blanket categories of offenses -- with no detention or individualized evaluations or assessments of particular crimes or individuals. This removes the process by which law enforcement officers address repeat offenders...or particular circumstances of crimes, offenses, victims or other critical considerations, particularly as to those implicating public safety concerns or the seriousness of the offense that may not be reflected merely in the charges."

Examples of Crimes Covered

Crimes covered under the cite-and-release or book-and-release policy include most theft offenses, vehicle code violations, and offenses against property such as petty theft or vandalism.

Crimes that require magistrate review include offenses involving firearms, such as possession of a loaded firearm; sexual battery; violence against children or elders; contact with a minor with intent to commit a sexual offense; and battery against an elder or dependent adult. Those who are arrested for a felony while on parole or on post-release community supervision are
also subject to magistrate review.

Offenses involving serious or violent felonies and domestic violence offenses must still post bail to be released prior to arraignment.

Capital offenses such as murder with special circumstances and certain felonies are not eligible for release before arraignment.

Risk-based assessments that determine the terms of release that are similar to L.A. County's "zero bail" policy are also in effect in New Jersey, Kentucky, and Washington, D.C.

Manhattan Beach Police Chief Rachel Johnson told the City Council earlier this month that the police have been watching the situation closely but it is too early to determine the policy's impact.

"Our mission remains unchanged - we arrest people, we take them to jail. We submit good cases to the D.A. for review and filing," said Johnson. "No matter what the winds of other parts of criminal justice system bring us, we remain steadfast in doing what we do."

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