Currently, California law lays out a detailed procedure for approving and accepting bail in order for arrestees to avoid spending time in jail until their court proceedings. Senate Bill 262 (SB-262), authored by Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), introduces a change to the procedure in response to California’s high numbers of pre-trial incarceration.
This bill proposes doing away with bail for all minor offenses and setting bail based on an annual statewide schedule and the individual arrestees’ ability to pay. It was first introduced in January 2021 and most recently passed the California Senate and the Assembly Committee on Appropriations in July 2021.
What Does California Senate Bill 262 Say?
Essentially, Senate Bill 262 and the accompanying Assembly Bill 329 propose setting bail at $0 for all misdemeanors and minor offenses. In an attempt to preserve public safety, offenses not covered under SB-262 include violent felonies, violations of protective orders, sex offenses, driving under the influence, and other serious violations as defined by the Penal Code. This provision does not extend to subsequent and separate offenses that take place after the original case is resolved.
Additionally, the bill proposes that money or property paid to a bail bond licensee by or on behalf of the arrestee should be refunded if an arrested person makes all their court appearances, if their charges are dropped, or if their case is dismissed overall. SB-262 also proposes doing away with all charges relating to the conditions of release on bail, so arrestees out on bail would be relieved of paying those fees.
SB-262 does require the State of California to annually publish a set bail schedule with a list of offenses and the respective bail amounts. If an arrested person commits another offense while out on $0 bail, SB-262 proposes setting bail based on both the statewide bail schedule and the individual’s reasonable ability to pay the bail amount.
How Will California Senate Bill 262 Affect Bail Bond Agents?
SB-262 proposes setting bail at $0 for most minor offenses. Even if it is determined that a larger bail should be set for an arrestee, SB-262 will require the court to set bail based on what they feel the individual can afford. This could potentially mean fewer and less valuable clients for bail bond agents, resulting in a sharp decrease in their revenue.
The requirement for money paid to bail bond licensees for bail bonds to be refunded to arrestees will discourage bail bond agents from writing bail bonds at all. SB-262 does state that the bail bond licensee is entitled to retain a surcharge of up to 5 percent of the amount paid by the arrestee or on behalf of the arrestee. This means a bail bond agent who receives a ten percent premium for writing a bail bond must refund all but half of one percent of his fee in almost every case. Since the remaining 0.5% fee is not enough to cover the bail bond agent’s expenses, he will no longer be willing to bail out arrestees at all.
Bail bond agents rightfully ask why the refund of fees paid by arrestees to criminal defense attorneys, private investigators and expert witnesses is not also mentioned in this law. Since it is the court that requires the payment of bail, why does the law not require the court, rather than the bail bond agent, to refund the cost of bail to arrestees?
How Will California Senate Bill 262 Affect the Local Community?
Some feel crime rates will increase if arrested individuals are simply released back into the community without having to post bail after being arrested. These individuals could continue committing minor offenses, or they could move to more serious crimes. Additionally, some feel SB-262 takes away an arrestee’s motivation to actually attend court hearings. As a result, potentially dangerous arrestees would essentially be free with no real incentive to answer for their crimes.