Suspects arrested for low-level crimes in Santa Monica will likely be put back on the streets with a citation to appear following a recent ruling prohibiting bail for some suspects unless they’ve seen a judge.

California Superior Court Judge Lawrence P. Riff issued a preliminary injunction on May 19 prohibiting the County and City of Los Angeles from requiring cash bail for non-violent and non-serious offenses prior to an arraignment.

Under the current system, individuals arrested for such offenses must pay a preset amount of money to secure their release before their arraignment. The plaintiffs in the case argued that this practice disproportionately impacts those without financial means, potentially resulting in job loss and other penalties even if the charges are ultimately dismissed. They also highlighted the poor conditions and threat of violence in Los Angeles County jails for those unable to pay.

The judge considered whether the injunction would lead to increased crime rates or failures to appear in court. The plaintiffs presented evidence from expert witnesses and academic studies, indicating that secured money bail systems are associated with higher crime rates and failure to appear compared to non-financial conditions. The court found that the evidence suggested the current money bail system in Los Angeles County itself contributes to increased criminal activity.

The defendants argued that they are obligated to enforce the cash bail system established by the courts. However, the judge stated that it is not uncommon for lawsuits to target enforcers rather than creators of potentially unconstitutional laws.

The ruling provided a 60-day period for stakeholders to develop alternative options for pretrial detention, such as electronic monitoring or personal promises to appear in court and some of those plans are now coming to light.

The Sheriff’s Department said that with the elimination of cash bail, individuals charged with most misdemeanor and non-violent felony offenses would be released on their recognizance or subject to non-monetary conditions. The Sheriff said the Los Angeles County Jail System will not accept inmates who do not meet the exception criteria outlined in the Emergency Bail Schedule, this includes court lock-ups. These arrestees will need to remain in the custody of the arresting agency until the arraignment is complete or the arrestee is released by that agency.

The judge’s ruling only applied pre-arraigned arrestees from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD). While the 45 independent city agencies within the county may continue to hold their inmates from arrest through arraignment, cities like Santa Monica relied on the Sheriff’s jail as our local facility is severely limited in size.

The Santa Monica Police Department said the net result will be more catch and release of suspects prior to their arraignments.

“We at the SMPD are sorry that our options for keeping offenders in custody prior to arraignment have been limited by this injunction,” said Lt. Erika Aklufi. “As you know, there are some very serious offenses, including grand theft, auto theft, misdemeanor battery, and vandalism, that are zero bail offenses. Under this order, we are once again required to release the offenders back into the city with a notice to appear as soon as they are booked and their identity confirmed.”

Aklufi said the change is “challenging” but that SMPD already has a progam in place with the City Attorney’s office that helps divert some lower-level chronic offenders through their Alternatives to Incarceration Program.

“Since the inception, the ATI program has successfully graduated 23 participants, with two more expected in June; even more importantly, none of the graduates have been re-arrested, a notable success,” she said. “In addition to ATI, the SMPD utilizes a Department of Mental Health (DMH) worker in the jail who assists with diverting those experiencing acute mental illness to the appropriate treatment facility, not jail. Lastly, the SMPD works closely with the city prosecutor connecting individuals with the Shelter, Treatment and Empowerment Program (STEP), our newest iteration of Homeless Court. All of these collaborative efforts are aimed at seeking better outcomes; it is about finding long-term solutions and getting people the help they need.”

The judge’s ruling also updates the “Repeat Offender” provision, stating that subsequent offenses committed while released on $0 bail during the abeyance period will be subject to traditional bail procedures.

That provision is actually an enhancement from the prior rule that temporarily eliminated bail as a public health measure during the pandemic.

“We are heartened by a significant change that was made since the Covid era rules in the ‘Repeat Offender’ provision that allows us to keep in custody, or transfer to County Jail, anyone who is out on zero bail and violates any penal code,” said Lt. Aklufi. “During Covid, an individual had to be arrested a second time for the same offense in order for the provision to apply. It helps; though at the end of the day, the result is a second victim.”

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...