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Manhattan Beach Withdraws from 'Zero-Bail' Lawsuit

Feb 07, 2024 07:19PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
They were in; now they're out: Manhattan Beach has withdrawn its participation in a lawsuit filed by the City of Whittier and a coalition of other cities calling for an end to LA County's recently adopted “zero-bail” schedule.

The city released the following statement on Wednesday:

Manhattan Beach withdrew its participation in a lawsuit filed by the City of Whittier and a coalition of other cities seeking an injunction to enjoin the recently adopted “zero-bail” schedule in Los Angeles County. The City Council directed staff to reallocate efforts to other more effective public safety initiatives.

In 2023, the Superior Court of Los Angeles County approved a revised set of bail schedules that included Pre-Arraignment Release Protocols, which determined 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 in Los Angeles County for non-violent, non-serious felonies and misdemeanors. Subsequently, the city of Whittier in partnership with other cities across Los Angeles County, filed an action seeking an injunction to postpone implementation of the new zero-bail schedule. Manhattan Beach joined the lawsuit on October 17, 2023, and has now withdrawn from that lawsuit to redirect funding to other public safety measures.

“Public safety is our number one priority in Manhattan Beach. Our commitment remains solidly grounded in a criminal justice system that safeguards our community,” said Mayor Joe Franklin. “The decision to withdraw from the ‘zero-bail’ litigation reflects our dedication to continuously assess and improve our public safety policies, ensuring that our resources are consistently spent on the most effective and immediate efforts. While some progress was made in the ‘zero-bail’ case, it is clear that our community will have to combat crime through additional avenues, and we continue our steadfastness in those efforts.”

Last year, the City Council authorized and appropriated money for a number of public safety efforts. Most notably, the Council authorized hiring seven new police officers and authorized three firefighters in fire suppression, allocated funding to a security camera program, and other measures designed to safeguard our community. Public safety represents 57% of the City’s budget in this current fiscal year and remains a top priority for the community.

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, 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 reasoning for the "zero bail" 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. 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.

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

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."

At the time that Manhattan Beach joined the lawsuit last October, it was expected to cost the city around $10,000; or less if other cities joined in as well.

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 in October that the police have been watching the situation closely.

"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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