A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Tuesday blocked the city and county of Los Angeles from demanding cash bail from arrestees who haven't yet been arraigned, Courthouse News Service reports. The decision, sure to send shockwaves through law enforcement, comes in the form of a preliminary injunction, and effectively bumps Los Angeles back to its 2020 COVID-era policy of "zero cash bail," in which those arrested for low-level felonies were released without bail while they waited to be arraigned by a judge, who would then set a cash bail amount. "The plaintiffs have shown that these defendants' conduct in enforcing the secured money bail schedules against poor people who are detained in jail solely for the reason of their poverty is a clear, pervasive and serious constitutional violation," Judge Lawrence Riff wrote. "The parties estimate they will be ready for a trial on the merits in about a year. Between now and then, tens of thousands of persons will be arrested and jailed under the current bail schedules solely because they are too poor to pay the scheduled money bail.
"It would be an abuse of the court's discretion not to enter" a preliminary injunction, Riff added. The injunction does not apply to those arrested for a capital offense, violent felonies or certain serious misdemeanors, such as domestic violence or stalking. Nor does it apply to those who have an open, unresolved case or are the subject of an arrest warrant. Those rearrested while out on zero bail will be held under the old cash bail schedule. "This historic ruling presents L.A. with a critical opportunity to make long-overdue reforms," said a plaintiffs' attorney, Salil Dudani. "We now hope to work with the government and all stakeholders to put in place alternatives that do not discriminate against the poor, do not result in the unnecessary jailing of presumptively innocent people, and promote real public safety." The long-awaited decision comes after a marathon hearing that took place, on and off, over the course of nearly two months. The case was filed by a pair of nonprofit public interest law firms on behalf of six people who had recently been jailed and who couldn't afford to pay their pre-arraignment bail. Bail is set according to a predetermined formula and determines whether or not an arrestee is detained prior to being arraigned — typically the first time the accused goes before a judge or gets access to a public defender. Upon arraignment, the judge sets a new bail amount, and according to a 2021 California Supreme Court decision, that judge must take into account the arrestee's financial means when setting the figure.