Commentary – Quentin Kopp

Bail changes = more crime

By Quentin Kopp


In  June, 1901, at his family  residence at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, Long Island,

then-Vice President Theodore Roosevelt declared to visiting college undergraduates:

“The most practical kind of politics is the politics of decency.”


Can you imagine that as a truism nationally in 2017?  I can’t, and I’ve been imbued with

politics since my late father ran for treasurer of  Onondaga County in upstate New York

in November, 1935.


Of course, for vanishing readers of the SF Chronicle, there’s the daily schedule of political

events, 95 percent of which consist of anti-presidential ranting, if not raving, to already-

converted California and Bay Area “resisters.”


Thus far, free speech seems to survive in San Francisco, unlike many college campuses,

including my own alma mater, Dartmouth College, at which last fall a cadre of students

invaded the library at night and demanded exodus by all of the studying students for the

purpose of embracing a “Black Lives Matter” parade.


We’ve seen it at the University of California (UC), we read about it at Middlebury

College in Vermont after author Charles Murray, an invitee of a respected (and liberal)

professor, was silenced by students accusing him of espousing racist views. It’s happened

at UC Davis, Brown University, New York University, DePaul University in Chicago, and

the University of Wisconsin.


A 2015 Pew Research Center poll disclosed that 40 percent of people ages 18 to 34

support censorship of statements offensive to minorities, while only 24 percent of those

who are 51 to 60 agree.


I think we all realize the irony of speech suppression and dilution at UC Berkeley,

generally viewed as birthplace of the “free speech movement” in the ’60s. I do, and I

deplore it, as a board of directors member of the California First Amendment

Coalition, which I proudly joined at the invitation by my old friend and founder of the

late Bay Guardian, Bruce Brugmann.


Since I’ve lost virtually all my First Amendment rights as a San Francisco Ethics

commission member to comment upon City Hall indignities, like a

forthcoming second garbage rate increase in two years, I invite attention

to a state matter. Pending legislation (Assembly Bill 42 and Senate Bill 10) endangers

public safety and will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of

dollars, maybe even $2 billion as claimed by opponents.


The linguistic staple of those who would weaken public safety is “reform.”

The aforementioned legislation as “bail reform” would radically alter the bail system in

California courts and violate the California Constitution, specifically the

Victim’s Bill of Rights, approved by 83 percent of California voters in 1982, and

Proposition 8, which the legislature authorized later for voter approval with only one

dissenting vote and declares in Article I, Section 12: “In fixing the amount of bail, the

court shall take into consideration the seriousness of the offense charge, the previous

criminal record of the defendant, and the probability of his or her appearing at the

trial or hearing of the case.”


In 2008, voters added Article I, Section 28: “In setting, reducing or denying bail, the

judge or magistrate shall take into consideration the protection of the public,

the safety of the victim, the seriousness of the offense charge, the previous criminal

record of the defendant, and the probability of his or her appearing at the trial or

hearing of the case.


Public safety and the safety of the victim shall be the primary considerations.

A person may be released on his or her own recognizance in the court’s discretion,

subject to the same factors considered in setting bail.”


The California Constitution guarantees the right to bail. Releasing a defendant on his or

her “own recognizance” means releasing that person without bail. The bills’ rationale is

to eliminate a bail system which affects people with different income and assets

differently by effectively abolishing the authority of judges to set bail in

most cases.


Since the ’70s, San Francisco’s Superior Court has operated a pre-trial jail release or

“OR” office. So has nearly every other California county. Those offices evaluate

defendants for not constituting a danger to the victim or other persons or a significant

risk of not appearing in court for arraignment, plea, trial or other required

court appearances.


If a defendant doesn’t appear, a judge must issue an arrest warrant and the sheriff must

locate and return the accused to jail. That costs money – often a lot of money. Similar

systems in New Jersey and Washington D.C. have depleted court appropriations

and shocked taxpayers and judicial officers.


The proposals reflect a national movement based upon the premise that bail

is unfair to most defendants. I will testify from 10 years as a judge in criminal courts that

judges evaluate carefully recommendations from pre-trial screening officials,

defendants’ lawyers (most of whom are court-appointed because of defendants’

poverty and paid for by taxpayers) and prosecutors as to whether someone accused of a

crime should be released from jail without bail pending trial.


Keeping someone in jail who isn’t a public safety threat and who’ll comply with court

appearances doesn’t make taxpayer sense. Judges know that and release accused

defendants accordingly. Forcing them to do so without justification will deplete

already inadequate court funds and increase crime. Just watch and see.

1 reply »

  1. Defendant “A” is accused of committing crime “Y”, arrested, booked, and taken into custody at the local county jail. His bail is set at $50,000 ($5,000 bond).

    Defendant “B” is also, in a separate incident, accused of committing crime “Y”, arrested, booked, and taken into custody at the local county jail. His bail is set at $50,000 ($5,000 bond).

    Defendant “A” was recently laid off from his job, or perhaps he is elderly and lives on social security and a small pension. Or perhaps he is employed but works a low wage job. In any event, he cannot afford to post the $5,000 bond and thus he will remain in custody until his case is resolved (assuming that the Judge is not persuaded to eliminate bail at arraignment). Depending on the severity of the charges, this could mean several months behind bars, during which time the Defendant (who has not been convicted, but merely accused, of a crime) will lose his job and consequently his home.

    Defendant “B” has a professional job and earns a six figure salary. He makes a few phone calls, posts the $5,000 bond, and is released from jail before the sun rises the morning following his arrest. He is now free to continue working, to continue earning money, and to continue caring for his family while his case moves through the system.

    Defendant “A” and Defendant “B” are both eventually acquitted of all charges because the prosecutors cannot prove all elements of the crime in Court. Defendant “B” has lost nothing save for his bail money and attorney’s fees. Defendant “A” has lost his freedom, his job, his home and possibly relationships with his family and friends.

    This hardly seems like a fair system, nor does it appear to protect the public. Arguably, the Defendant who can afford to post large sums of bail money on a serious charge is more of a threat because he ostensibly has the resources to leave the sate or the country prior to the resolution of his case.


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