The Misdemeanor Pretrial Population: Who is in Custody and Why?

At the time of writing this blog post, there are 304 men and 90 women in jail in Santa Clara County accused of committing misdemeanors. Even though these men and women have not yet been convicted of a crime, the average time they have spent in jail is 33 days. Those accused of a misdemeanor are entitled to release on his or her own recognizance absent an express finding from the court. In other words, unless a court finds that the individual is a danger to public safety or a flight risk, all he or she needs to do is promise to appear for their next hearing. So why do these 394 individuals remain in custody? My writing for Criminal Law and Policy blog will focus on defendants accused of a misdemeanor crime and will attempt to answer the following questions: who remains in custody and why are they there?

Additionally, I will be writing about alternatives to commercial bail, specifically community bail funds. Most likely, there are people in jail in Santa Clara County accused of misdemeanors who would be released if they could afford to pay 10% of the bail amount to a bail bondsmen. This is fundamentally unfair and potentially unconstitutional. Although community bail funds have been described as a Band-Aid for a much larger problem, if the system continues to utilize money bail for pre-trial release, the Band-Aid is needed.

My name is Erin Callahan and I am third year law student at Santa Clara University and a candidate for a Public Interest and Social Justice Certificate. Last year, I wrote for the Drug Law and Policy Blog about barriers to entry for communities of color in the burgeoning recreational marijuana industry. I have worked with indigent defendants for the past two years at both the Santa Clara County Office of the Public Defender and the Northern California Innocence Project. Most recently, I worked with misdemeanor clients pre-trial and saw firsthand how pending charges can cause someone to lose their job and interfere with their home life. I am excited to work on bail reform because I believe there is a way to achieve equity and fairness, while promoting public safety and decreasing recidivism.