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CA Judicial Council sets bail at $0 for misdemeanors and low-level felonies to reduce jail populations

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On Monday, the California Judicial Council announced eleven new temporary emergency rules in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of which involves setting bail at $0 statewide for misdemeanors and lower-level felonies in order to "safely reduce jail populations."

This decision was made during the second emergency council meeting of California court and branch leaders.

However, San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow has expressed concern over what this zero bail could mean for the victims of certain severe crimes including sex trafficking, child abuse and elder abuse.

“While extraordinary emergencies require extraordinary measures, mass release of jail inmates may increase crime in our communities," said District Attorney Dan Dow. "I am hopeful that the Judicial Council’s new emergency rules do not unintentionally cause further harm to vulnerable labor trafficking victims, children, or elders in our communities who have already been identified as victims of crime. We have urged the Council to add human trafficking, child abuse, and elder abuse to the exceptions to zero bail, but sadly they did not adopt our recommendations. Our victim advocates will continue to do everything we can to assist and protect victims, especially at this critical time when their abusers are to be released from custody.  I must also add that I am extremely grateful that the Court is now allowing us to conduct video conference hearings in Court with attorneys and parties in various locations to minimize human interaction during the COVID-19 health emergency.  This is critical to safeguarding the health of all who need access to and come within the justice system.”

The Council said they received and considered more than 100 written comments on their new rules from judges, public defenders, district attorneys, law enforcement, legal aid and advocacy groups, unions, attorneys, court reporters, interpreters, and other justice system partners when making their decision.

Other actions the Council approved Monday which go into effect immediately are to:

  • Suspend the entry of defaults in eviction cases;
  • Suspend judicial foreclosures;
  • Allow courts to require judicial proceedings and court operations be conducted remotely, with the defendant’s consent in criminal proceedings;
  • Adopt a statewide emergency bail schedule that sets bail at $0 for most misdemeanor and lower-level felony offenses;
  • Allow defendants to appear via counsel or remote technologies for pretrial criminal hearings;
  • Prioritize hearings and orders in juvenile justice proceedings and set a structure for remote hearings and continuances
  • Extend the timeframes for specified temporary restraining orders;
  • Extend the statutes of limitations governing civil actions; and
  • Allow electronic depositions in civil cases.

The Judicial Council previously approved a number of temporary measures at its first emergency meeting on March 28 where they discussed how California courts, which remain open as "essential services" under Gov. Newsom's stay at home order, can follow social distancing guidelines while providing due process and access to justice.

For a complete list of emergency orders taken by the California court system in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the California Courts Newsroom.

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Jessica Brest

Jessica Brest is a digital journalist and assignment editor for NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Jessica, click here.

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