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
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
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.