by Miles Dyson
LOS ANGELES — In a groundbreaking move, the Los Angeles Superior Court has issued a preliminary injunction that puts an end to the detention of individuals solely due to their inability to pay cash bail. The injunction, issued on May 16, 2023, mandates that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and Los Angeles Police Department adhere to a policy implemented during the pandemic, which eliminates the requirement for low-level, non-violent offenders to pay money bail before being released.
Judge Lawrence Riff of the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit had presented compelling evidence indicating the unconstitutionality of detaining individuals in LA County and the City of LA based on their inability to afford money bail. The ruling follows an extensive hearing, featuring weeks of expert testimony on the detrimental effects of wealth-based detention, revealing that cash bail undermines public safety. The court concluded that the preliminary injunction would reduce criminal activity, failures to appear in court, and overcrowding in the defendants’ jail facilities.
Notably, the defendants did not dispute the plaintiffs’ arguments, and the court acknowledged that numerous public officials in California, including LA’s Probation Department and Board of Supervisors, have expressed concerns about the fairness and constitutionality of the pretrial money bail system, which results in the detention of arrestees solely due to their poverty.
Effective May 24, 2023, in accordance with the preliminary injunction, the LAPD and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department will no longer be able to incarcerate individuals who would have been released under LA’s most recent “emergency bail schedule” implemented during the pandemic to address jail overcrowding. The parties involved have until July 5, 2023, to collaborate and develop plans and procedures for the pre-arraignment release of arrested individuals that are constitutionally sound, effective, and enforceable. The court anticipates that the lawsuit will proceed to a trial on the merits in 2024.
The class action lawsuit, Urquidi v. Los Angeles et al., was filed in November 2022 on behalf of individuals who were detained due to their inability to pay bail. The plaintiffs include Phillip Urquidi, Terilyn Goldson, Daniel Martinez, Arthur Lopez, Susana Perez, and Gerardo Campos. They are supported by an interfaith coalition consisting of CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice), Reverend Jennifer Gutierrez (Executive Director of CLUE), Reverend Gary Bernard Williams (Pastor at Saint Mark UMC and Board Member of CLUE), and Rabbi Aryeh Cohen (Professor of Rabbinic Literature, American Jewish University).
Brian Hardingham, Senior Attorney at Public Justice's Debtors’ Prison Project, stated, “Our clients were arrested and held in jail simply because they couldn't afford to buy their release. Pre-trial detention destroys lives, and we hope this ruling will pave the way for lasting policy changes that strengthen and protect communities disproportionately affected by the for-profit bail industry.”
Ambrose Brooks S., JusticeLA Coalition Coordinator, emphasized the importance of the ruling in reducing pretrial jailing, while calling on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to fulfill their commitment to closing Men’s Central Jail and reducing the county’s jail population.
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