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AP FACT CHECK: California governor hopefuls stumble on bail

October 9, 2018

Radio host Scott Shafer, left, moderates a California gubernatorial debate between Republican candidate John Cox, center, and Democratic candidate Gavin Newsom at KQED Public Radio Studio in San Francisco, Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, Pool)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Both candidates for California governor on Monday addressed the state’s recently approved law that will make it the first to eliminate bail for suspects awaiting trial and replace it with a risk-assessment system.

Starting in October 2019, most suspects charged with nonviolent felonies will be quickly released, while those charged with serious, violent felonies will stay in jail before trial. Judges will have wide discretion to decide what to do with other suspects based on an assessment of their likelihood of returning to court and the danger they pose to the public.

Supporting lawmakers said it would end a system that discriminates against low-income people and racial minorities, while opponents predicted the law will make communities less safe. The measure passed mostly along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

The law is the latest development in a nationwide debate over bail that has seen every state make some change in its pre-trial release law since 2012, according to National Conference of State Legislatures criminal justice policy specialist Amber Widgery. But California is the only one to formally eliminate cash bail, she said.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom favors the change while Republican businessman John Cox opposes it.

A look at statements made by both candidates during their debate:

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NEWSOM: “Only (Rodrigo) Duterte’s Philippines and Trump’s United States of America have money bail.”

THE FACTS: Newsom likes to criticize Trump at every turn, but in this case he’s off the mark.

Proponents including the American Civil Liberties Union and the bill’s authors agree that the Philippines is likely the only other nation with cash bail bond system, though some other nations also require various sureties, supervision or set other conditions for release.

But the cash bail system has been the practice in the United States since colonial days, long predating the presidency of Donald Trump. There even is a mention in the U.S. Constitution, alongside the better-known prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. The Eighth Amendment allows for bail but says it can’t be excessive.

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COX: “What you’re doing is replacing a private business with a lot more state workers.”

THE FACTS: While Cox is right that the new law will do away with an entire private industry, most new workers will be in the county courts, not state government. The jobs would be performed by employees of the court or a local public agency, according to proponents, independent legislative analysts and California Bail Agents Association president Gloria Mitchell. There is no estimate for how many new workers would be needed.

Currently, there are about 3,200 bail agents and organizations licensed by the California Department of Insurance. Some additional state Judicial Council employees may be needed to set rules for using risk assessments, train judges and collect and report data, according to legislative analysts and other experts who could not provide estimates because the system is still being developed.

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