By Jonah Owen Lamb
Those charged with a misdemeanor — for example, battery on a police officer — in San Francisco in 2013 likely faced a bail of about $10,000. The same would have been for contempt of court.
But for those charged with either crime today or a handful of others that are, in many instances nonviolent, it will cost a lot more to get out of jail.
That’s because in June, new bail amounts went into effect after San Francisco Superior Court judges conducted their annual review of the court’s bail schedule.
Nonviolent charges that saw bail amounts increased included pointing a laser at an aircraft, which went from $10,000 to $20,000. The court also boosted bail amounts for a list of violent charges. For instance, bail for charges of assault on a police officer or a firefighter with a semi-automatic rifle jumped from $100,000 to $250,000.
While most of the offenses linked to bail increases were violent felonies, a handful were for offenses that do not always result in harm, like touching a police officer.
Some are crying foul in response, saying that bail amounts are already too high and raising them only punishes the poor who cannot afford bail, while letting the rich, no matter the offense, walk free as they await trial.
“It essentially insures that a poor person charged with even a minor crime will remain in jail while a person who has money, no matter what they have been charged with, will get out,” Public Defender Jeff Adachi said. “These bails don’t make any sense. … There’s no justification for picking certain crimes and jacking up the bail for no reason.”
The rationale behind the changes, according to court officials, was driven by concern for the public’s safety as well as legal requirements dictating an annual review of bail and a desire to put The City on the same page with other neighboring jurisdictions.
“The vast majority of the offenses listed on this sheet are violent crimes,” said Ann Donlan, a spokeswoman for the court. “The purpose of bail is twofold — to protect the public’s safety and to ensure that the defendant returns to court. The court’s concerns and responsibilities are different than Mr. Adachi’s concerns and responsibilities, and that is the nature of the judicial system.”
But Adachi took issue with the court’s reasoning for the bail hike.
“The nature of the crime alone in and of itself doesn’t justify an increase in bail,” Adachi said. “The bails for violent crime are already sky-high, so doubling or tripling the bail amount isn’t justified. Why did they believe it was necessary to increase bail from last year? We’re not talking about an adjustment for inflation. The bail for battery on a police officer, which amounts to unlawfully touching an officer, quadrupled from $5,000 to $20,000. Why? What’s the justification for that?”
Donlan countered that even though the bail schedule changed, “judges may use their discretion in setting bail — higher or lower than the amounts listed in the bail schedule — depending on an individual defendant’s circumstances, the facts of the case and the potential risks to public safety.”