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The Law Offices of Paul S. Geller, P.C

California Adopts “Risk-Based” Policy in Place of Bail System

  • Published: September 19, 2018

On August 28, 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 10, effectively overturning California’s cash-based bail system and replacing it with a new “risk-based” policy. In the past, defendants could post bail to get out of custody prior to standing trial. This system guaranteed that defendants would appear in court or risk losing their bail money. While Senate Bill 10 is a complete overhaul of the pretrial detention system, many are concerned that it reinforces the same racial and socioeconomic biases it’s attempting to counter.


While Senate Bill 10 doesn’t take effect until October 1, 2019, it has already amassed passionate advocates and critics.

Supporters of Senate Bill 10 claim this systematic overhaul is necessary because jails are being flooded with low-income defendants who haven’t been officially convicted of any crimes. The current bail system judges people based on their wealth and not if they are actual risks to the public. The median bail in California is $50,000, which is five times the national average and more than most people can afford. There are many defendants charged with low level offenses who are waiting in prison for their trials just because they can’t pay for the bail price. Plus, it costs over $100 a day to incarcerate each of the 72,000 people currently living in California jails. If Senate Bill 10 is successful, it may provide more funds to the state.

Critics of the bill have concerns about how the system plans to determine high-risk cases. Many organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union of California, Human Rights Watch, and the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice are concerned this bill will actually lead to more people being incarcerated.


Individual counties in California are responsible for establishing agencies that can evaluate the risk level of defendants based on specific factors.

A defendant’s risk factor will be determined based on their:

  • Charges
  • Past criminal history
  • Probability of appearing in court

A “low-risk” defendant can be released from custody under restrictive non-monetary conditions, such as monitored ankle bracelets or mandatory check-ins. A “medium-risk” person may be released or incarcerated depending on the agency’s determination. These are risk levels only available for low-level offenses and nonviolent felonies. A judge is responsible for deciding if high-risk cases should remain in custody before their trials.

Defendants may be considered high-risk under the following conditions:

  • They are facing sex crime charges
  • They are facing violent felony charges
  • They have been arrested for a 3rd DUI within a 10-year period
  • They have violated the bail system in the last 5 years


If you’re charged with a crime in California, it’s important to understand the extent of your legal rights. At The Law Offices of Paul S. Geller, our Pasadena criminal defense attorney keeps updated on changing state laws and how they may impact our clients.

Paul S. Geller

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