Federal Judge Orders Man Released After SF Courts Repeatedly Fail to Follow Bail Law

San Francisco—A federal judge this week ordered authorities to immediately free a homeless man from jail after he was repeatedly denied a constitutionally adequate bail hearing in San Francisco Superior Court.

Monday’s ruling marked the third time U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer had to intervene in the case of 53-year-old James Reem, who is represented by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. Reem has remained in San Francisco County jail on $330,000 since his July 28, 2017 arrest for burglary and auto theft. Reem’s public defender requested his release in a bail motion on Aug. 14, which was denied.

In partnership with Civil Rights Corps, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office appealed Reem’s bail amount to the higher court. Breyer granted the petition on Nov. 29, ruling that Reem was being held unconstitutionally because his bail was so high it amounted to detention without trial and that the court had violated Reem’s right to due process by failing to consider non-monetary alternatives. However, Breyer stayed his order to allow San Francisco Superior Court Judge Garrett Wong to hold another detention hearing. Wong eventually agreed, only technically, to “release” Reem, provided the homeless man could pay the unchanged $330,000 bail, stating Reem was a danger to the community. Reem could not pay the bail, and remained in jail.

Reem promptly filed a second motion, which Breyer again granted on the basis that “there is no rational relationship between money bail and protecting the public under California law.” The federal judge found Wong’s order violated the constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because Reem would have gone free based solely on wealth had he been able to obtain bail money. Breyer again allowed Wong the opportunity to hold a constitutionally adequate detention hearing. Wong held a hearing Dec. 22, and again ordered Reem detained on $330,000 bail, this time citing the homeless man’s potential to be a flight risk, despite the fact that the court’s own risk management tool contradicted that conclusion.

Reem appealed a third time to the higher court, resulting in Monday’s ruling and order of release. In his decision, Breyer noted his multiple interventions, stating, “Since holding that Reem’s initial detention hearing in state court was unconstitutional, this Court has granted the Superior Court two additional opportunities to articulate a constitutional basis for detaining Reem pending trial. Both times, the Superior Court failed to do so. Accordingly, this Court orders Reem’s release.”

Breyer also rebuked the San Francisco Superior Court judge for holding Reem as a flight risk based solely on a prosecutor’s assertion, noting that the court “relied on evidence that lacked any indicia of reliability, and disregarded competent competing evidence. Thus, the Superior Court plainly failed to employ adequate procedural safeguards. This failure was inconsistent with Reem’s right to due process of law.”

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said Breyer’s ruling illustrates the reluctance of local judges to follow the law on bail.

“Unfortunately, San Francisco judges just aren’t getting that they are violating our clients’ rights by failing to meet minimum federal constitutional requirements in bail hearings. The fact that a single case had to be appealed three times and a federal judge had to intervene each of those times to stop a local judge from violating the constitution is a disgrace,” Adachi said.

Reem was released from jail Tuesday.

Monday’s ruling can be found here.

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