Some Light at the End of the Judge’s Tunnel

The problems regarding judges and bail have been discussed in my previous posts. Although the issues are real and, in some ways, disheartening, there are some possible solutions to the problem.

Since California Superior Court Judges compete in nonpartisan races, citizens can vote and have an effect on the judges serving their county. Nonpartisan races for judges are held every June and November of even numbered years. Many judges are appointed by the governor instead of via a nonpartisan election; however, those terms have limits and judges must participate in an election in order to keep their judicial seats. Superior Court (trial court) judges serve staggered six-year terms. Every two years a third of the superior court judges are up for re-election. Continue reading “Some Light at the End of the Judge’s Tunnel”

Immigration Bond: Making Freedom an Expensive Commodity for Some Immigrants


Immigration bond, in theory, serves the same purpose as “bail” in that it helps procure the release of a detainee. It is essentially a contract between ICE and a person (or the bond company posting the bond) to ensure the release of an individual. The release is made in exchange for security given that that individual will appear in court or any other proceeding at a later date. But unlike bail, there are no constitutional safeguards against excessive bond.

Before I explain how immigration bond is set and what are some of the major issues surrounding this process, it’s important that I clarify that throughout this post I will use the words “immigrant” and “non-citizen” interchangeably. Non-citizens include those who are undocumented as well as those who are green card holders or who have other types of protected immigration status. It’s important to understand that undocumented immigrants are not the only ones who can be detained and deported. About 10% of those who are deported each year are green card holders; 68% are removed after committing minor, nonviolent crimes.

The number of Criminal “Aliens”:

For years, the Obama administration has claimed that ICE is focusing its efforts on convicted criminals, and is going after “gang bangers, people who are hurting the community, not after students, not after folks who are here just because they’re trying to figure out how to feed their families.” Perhaps in response to mounting criticism due to the high number of deportations, the Department of Homeland security (DHS) issued new guidelines in 2014, making the “removal of aliens who pose a danger to national security or a risk to public safety ICE’s highest immigration enforcement priority.”

Kimberly Pineda-Chavez was 17 when she fled Honduras to escape gangs that threatened to make her and her sister their “sex slaves”. The sisters were apprehended at the border and Kimberly was ordered deported 3 months later. She was detained by ICE and after more than 25,000 petition signatures Kimberly was granted bond and released.

But the numbers simply do not add up. First, the 2014 priority list includes “criminals” convicted of misdemeanors, as well as newly arrived immigrants, regardless of whether they present any security risks. Between 2010 and 2013, ICE removed 508,000 immigrants; only 3% had been convicted of violent or serious crimes (PDF page 10). ICE data released to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) shows that during April 2015 “only about one third (32%) of individuals on whom immigration detainers were placed had been convicted of a crime”; only 19% had a felony conviction, and two thirds had no criminal convictions. A “detainer” or “immigration hold” is the primary tool used by DHS to apprehend immigrants by asking local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to notify ICE of a pending release.

In California, 81% of detainers issued were for individuals with no criminal conviction. More recent data also shows that through February 2016, only 2% of those individuals in deportation proceedings nationwide were convicted of aggravated felonies, almost 7% had “other criminal charges”, and the rest had only immigration charges. What this data shows is that ICE has not limited its detention efforts to persons with serious convictions. Placing detainers on people with serious criminal convictions has, if anything, become less common.

Lundy Khoy, a green-card holder born in a Thai refugee camp after her parents fled Cambodia, was a student at George Mason University when she was caught by the police with a handful of ecstasy tabs. She served 3 months in jail and received 4 years of probation. In 2004, ICE showed up to one of her scheduled probation check-ins, detained her and imprisoned her for another 9 months.

As part of an effort to enhance its enforcement mechanisms, DHS has criminalized certain immigration violations, especially re-entry to the U.S. It is thus not surprising that non-citizens are overrepresented in federal prison populations. In 1990, there were only 1,728 inmates convicted of immigration violations (Table 19, page 12). But that number increased from 36,564 in 1992, to 75,867 in 2012.

In 2010, about 55,000 of so-called criminal aliens were incarcerated in federal prisons, and about 296,000 were in state prisons and local jails in 2009 (Figure 1, page 7). The majority, about 60%, were Mexican (Figure 2, page 9; Figure 6, page 15). About half of those incarcerated were charged with immigration (18%), drug (17%), or traffic violations (14%), and only a handful was charged with violent crimes (Table 2, page 21). More recent numbers show that in January 2016, about 16,809 inmates were in federal jails for immigration-related offenses, the third highest type of offense prosecuted during that period.

Who is Eligible For Bond?

Not everyone who is detained is deported, but this does not mean everyone else gets released. A non-citizen in removal proceedings has no constitutional right to be released on bond, and courts have consistently recognized that the government has extremely broad discretion in deciding whether or not to release a non-citizen on bond.

Moreover, some immigrants are subject to mandatory detention. In 1996, Congress significantly expanded the categories of individuals who are subject to mandatory detention to include immigrants convicted of essentially any crime, not only aggravated felonies and crimes of moral turpitude (PDF page 8). Because of the topic of this post, I will focus on those who are eligible for bond.

When a non-citizen is detained, ICE will make an independent determination of whether the person is eligible for bond. ICE bond can be granted at any point in the proceedings. If ICE does not set bond or sets a high bond, the detainee may request a bond hearing, also known as a custody determination hearing. The Immigration Judge will decide whether to set bond in exchange for the release, lower or raise the ICE bond, deny bond altogether, or allow for a release under other terms or conditions.

Unlike the criminal justice system, where a defendant can post bail before arraignment or at arraignment, but within 48 hours of arrest, an otherwise eligible detainee does not have the right to a bond hearing within a similar time frame. TRAC data shows that between November and December 2012, 66,306 people were “booked-out” of detention; over 4,000 were released under an order of recognizance, and 6,730 were bonded out. The average detention for those who were bonded out was 42 days; only 19% were released within 3 days, while 3% were released after 180 or more days.

Several courts have challenged the prolonged detention of immigrants without the right to a bond hearing. The Ninth and Second Circuits recently ruled that a bond hearing must automatically be held within six months of initial detention (Rodriguez; Lora). This makes those immigrants subject to mandatory detention eligible for a bond hearing, but this does not mean they are entitled to bond or that they can be released. However, the burden is on the government to show that continued detention is justified, which represents, in theory at least, a much-needed procedural safeguard.

For those immigrants whose cases are outside of these two circuits, prolonged mandatory detention is still an issue. But the Supreme Court could soon hear a case on this issue (Jennings v. Rodriguez).

How do judges decide the bond amount?

Immigration Judges are not Article II judges. They are “attorneys whom the Attorney General appoints as administrative judges”, and who exercise their own independent judgement and discretion in deciding a case.

During a bond hearing, the Immigration Judge will consider two things: 1)  whether the detainee is a danger to society and 2) whether he is a flight risk. The first can be shown through the absence of crimes, especially violent crimes. The second can be shown through evidence of family ties, especially if there are U.S. citizen children or a spouse, employment history, or letters of relatives or friends regarding the good moral character of the individual.

However, a judge “has broad discretion in deciding the factors that he or she may consider [and] may choose to give greater weight to one factor over others” (In Re Guerra, page 40). For instance, some judges will heavily consider and even require that the individual have potential relief from removal, such as having an immediate relative who can petition for them. But ability to pay is not one of the factors a judge considers (PDF pages 6-7).

If the judge denies bond, non-citizens can request a subsequent bond hearing if they can show that their circumstances have materially changed. A written motion explaining what has changed, along with proof, must be submitted (PDF page 3). Proof can consist of showing that detention has been prolonged, that the individual has been found non-removable because he now qualifies for relief or because criminal charges have been dismissed, or new case law has developed and it works in favor of the non-citizen.

Because Judges have broad discretion, it is not unheard of that bond is sometimes set at exorbitant amounts. By law the minimum amount bond can be set is $1,500, but there is no cap. While there is no comprehensive data on the average bond amount, a recent study of detainees in the Central District of California suggests that the average amounts range from $10,667 to $80,500 (PDF page 3). This same study found that detainees with felonies have an average bond amount of $47,133 while those without felonies have an average bond amount of $20,040. Another survey of 562 immigrants who had been detained in Southern California for six months or longer found that the median bond amount for these detainees was $15,000, “67% higher than the median bond amount of $9,000 for felony offenders in state criminal courts nationwide between 1990 and 2004” (PDF page 4).

Judges are supposed to make a bond determination based on all the information available at the time of the hearing. But if all the Judge has in front of him is information about a past criminal conviction, the likelihood of bond or low bond is greatly diminished. However, even if the Judges have more than just the criminal history, the study on central California detainees suggest that judges give more weight to criminal history, especially felony convictions, over other relevant factors (See PDF page 28).

The reality is that the immigration bond process can be complicated and non-citizen detainees many times are not represented and do not know that they only have one chance at a bond hearing. A national study of access to counsel in immigration court, found that of the 1.2 million removal cases decided between 2007 and 2012, only 37% had legal representation (PDF pages 11; 22). Those with legal representation were seven times more likely than pro se litigants to have a custody hearing and be released. While it did not specify under what conditions these non-citizens were released, it did find that those with legal representation showed up to court 93% of the time, compared to only 32% of pro se litigants (PDF page 73).

So, if Judges are supposed to be concerned not only with whether non-citizens are a danger to society, but with whether there is a risk that they will not return to Court, then providing legal representation in immigration matters, including custody determination hearings, may help ease that concern. And if the majority of non-citizens have no criminal convictions or have been convicted of non-violent crimes or of immigration violations alone (civil violation), then having legal representation may provide them with a more fair opportunity to make a case as to why they should be given a more affordable bond or be released under other conditions.

In my next post I will examine the practices of some bond companies that have greatly profited by the lack of uniformity and safeguards both inside and outside of immigration court. I will also examine the social and economic impact that high bond amounts have on immigrants and their families.


Fianza de Inmigración: Como la Libertad se ha Convertido en un Lujo Costoso para Algunos Inmigrantes

La fianza de inmigración, en teoría, sirve el mismo propósito que la fianza en el sistema criminal ya que ambas ayudan a procurar la libertad de un detenido. Es esencialmente un contrato entre inmigración y una persona (o compañía que pagará la fianza) para asegurar la libertad de un individuo. El detenido es puesto en libertad a cambio de la promesa que él regresará a corte o cualquier otro procedimiento judicial en el futuro. Pero a diferencia de la fianza penal, no hay garantías constitucionales contra una fianza de inmigración excesiva.

Antes de comenzar a explicar cómo se fija la fianza de inmigración y cuales son algunos de los problemas más graves con este proceso, es importante clarificar que durante este post yo usaré las palabras “inmigrante” y “no ciudadanos” de manera intercambiable. No-ciudadanos incluyen aquellos quienes son indocumentados, son residentes permanentes, y los que tienen otro tipo de protección migratoria. Es importante entender que los inmigrantes indocumentados no son los únicos que son detenidos y deportados. Un 10% de los deportados cada año son residentes permanentes; 60% son removidos después de haber cometido crímenes menores, no violentos.

El número de Extranjeros Criminales:

La administración del Presidente Obama ha mantenido por años que las autoridades de inmigración (ICE) se están enfocando en remover criminales sentenciados, y están hiendo tras “pandilleros, personas que afectan a la comunidad, no tras estudiantes, no tras aquellos que están aquí intentando mantener y sacar adelante a sus familias.” Tal vez en respuesta a criticas debido al gran numero de deportaciones, el Departamento de Seguridad Interna (DHS por sus sigla en Inglés) emitió nuevos reglamentos en 2014, haciendo la “deportación de extranjeros que posan un peligro para la seguridad nacional o riesgo a la seguridad pública la mayor prioridad para ICE.”

Pero los números no coinciden con los reglamentos de 2014. Primero, las prioridades de 2014 incluyen “criminales” que han sido condenados por crímenes menores, así como inmigrantes recién llegados, sin importar si presentan algún riesgo a la seguridad. Entre 2010 y 2013, ICE removió 508,000 inmigrantes de los cual solo 3% tenían antecedentes de delitos violentos o delitos serios. Datos proveídos al Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) muestran que durante Abril de 2015 “solo alrededor de un tercio (32%) de individuos a quienes se les dio orden de detención habían sido condenados con algún crimen”; solo el 19% tenían una sentencia por un crimen serio, y dos tercios no tenían antecedentes penales. Una “orden de detención”, también conocido como “ICE hold”, es la herramienta principal utilizada por DHS para detener a inmigrantes que están cumpliendo sentencia. ICE pide a agencias locales, estatales, o federales que le notifiquen sobre alguna liberación pendiente de personas no ciudadanas.

En California, 81% de las órdenes de detención emitidas fueron contra personas sin ningún antecedente penal. Datos más recientes muestran que durante Febrero de 2016, solo 2% de personas en proceso de deportación a nivel nacional tenían sentencias por crímenes serios con agravantes, casi el 7% tenían otros cargos criminales, y el resto solo tenían cargos por violar alguna ley de inmigración. Esto muestra que ICE no ha enfocado sus esfuerzos en detener a personas con cargos delictivos. Es más, órdenes de detención contra personas con sentencias por crímenes serios se han vuelto menos frecuente.

Como parte de los esfuerzos para mejorar la ejecución de sus reglas, DHS ha criminalizado ciertas violaciones migratorias, especialmente el reingreso a Estados Unidos después de una deportación previa. Es por eso que no es una sorpresa que personas sin ciudadanía estén sobrerrepresentados en las prisiones federales. En 1990, solo había 1,728 reclusos condenados por violaciones de inmigración. Pero este número incrementó de 36,564 en 1992 a 75,867 en 2012.

En 2010, al rededor de 55,000 supuestos extranjeros criminales fueron encarcelados en prisiones federales; y alrededor de 296,000 en prisiones estatales y cárceles locales en 2009. La mayoría de estos reclusos, alrededor de 60%, eran mexicanos. Cerca de la mitad de los encarcelados fueron acusados de violaciones migratorias (18%), relacionadas con drogas (17%), o por violaciones de tránsito (14%), y solo un pequeño número fueron acusados de crímenes violentos. Datos mas recientes muestran que en Enero de 2016, cerca de 16,809 reclusos se encontraban en cárceles federales por ofensas relacionadas con inmigración, el tercer tipo de ofensas mas frecuentemente juzgadas durante ese periodo.

¿Quienes son Elegibles para Fianza Migratoria?

No todos los que son detenidos son deportados, pero eso no quiere decir que todos los demás son puestos en libertad. Una persona en proceso de deportación no tiene derecho constitucional a ser puesto en libertad después de pagar una fianza. Las Cortes han reconocido de manera consistente que el gobierno tiene amplia discreción en decidir si pone a alguien en libertad bajo fianza o no.

Además, algunos inmigrantes están sujetos a una detención obligatoria. En 1996, el Congreso expandió de manera considerable las categorías de individuos que están sujetos a detención obligatoria e incluyó a inmigrantes acusados de virtualmente cualquier crimen, no solo crímenes serios con agravantes o crímenes de vileza moral. Debido al tema de este blog, me enfocaré en aquellos individuos que sí son elegibles para recibir fianza.

Cuando una persona no ciudadana es detenida, ICE puede hacer una determinación independiente sobre la elegibilidad de esta persona para fianza. La fianza de ICE puede ser concedida en cualquier momento durante el proceso. Si ICE decide no otorgar una fianza u otorga una fianza muy alta, el detenido puede pedir una audiencia de fianza, también conocida como una determinación de custodia. El Juez de Inmigración puede decidir si otorgar fianza, reducir o incrementar la fianza, negar fianza, u ordenar la liberación del detenido bajo otros términos o condiciones.

A diferencia del sistema penal, donde el acusado puede pagar una fianza antes o durante la audiencia donde se le leerán los cargos formales, pero dentro de un periodo de 48 horas después del arresto, un detenido en custodia de inmigración no tiene derecho a una audiencia de fianza durante un periodo similar. Datos de TRAC muestran que entre noviembre y diciembre de 2012, un total de 66,306 personas fueron procesadas fuera de detención. De ellas, más de 4,000 fueron puestos en libertad bajo promesa que el detenido regresaría a corte más adelante, y otros 6,730 fueron puestos en libertad después de pagar una fianza. El número promedio de días en que pagaron fianza es de 42 días; solo 19% fueron puestos en libertad después de 3 días de detención, mientras que 3% fueron puestos en libertad después de 180 días o mas.

Recientemente, algunas Cortes han cuestionado la detención prolongada sin derecho a una audiencia de fianza de ciertos inmigrantes. Las Cortes de Apelación del Noveno y el Segundo Circuito han decidido que una audiencia de fianza debe ser llevada a cabo automáticamente después de seis meses de la detención inicial. (Rodríguez; Lora). Esto significa que inmigrantes sujetos a detención obligatoria son elegibles a una audiencia de fianza, pero no son elegibles a recibir fianza o ser puestos en libertad. Sin embargo, el peso de probar por qué la detención prolongada es justificada cae sobre el gobierno. Esto representa, teóricamente, una protección muy valiosa para no ciudadanos en detención federal.

Para aquellos inmigrantes cuyos casos no se encuentran sujetos a la jurisdicción del Noveno y Segundo Circuito, la detención obligatoria prolongada sigue siendo un problema. Pero la Suprema Corte de Justicia podría pronto escuchar y decidir un caso sobre este problema. (Jennings v. Rodriguez).

 ¿Como los jueces deciden sobre la cantidad de fianza que se debe otorgar?

 Durante una audiencia, el Juez de Inmigración debe considerar dos cosas: 1) si existe riesgo que el detenido no se presente a la siguiente audiencia, y 2) si el detenido representa un peligro a la sociedad. El detenido puede probar que no hay riesgo de que no se presente a corte mostrando evidencia de lazos familiares, especialmente si tiene hijos o esposa(o) que son ciudadanos Americanos, si tiene un historial de trabajo, o cartas de familiares o amigos que hablen sobre su buen carácter moral.

Sin embargo, un juez “tiene amplia discreción para decidir cuales factores considerar [y] puede elegir darle más valor a un factor sobre otros.” (In Re Guerra). Por ejemplo, algunos jueces le darán gran consideración, y hasta pueden requerir que el detenido tenga algún remedio para no ser removido, si existe un familiar que sea ciudadano y pueda entablar una petición a favor del individuo. Pero la posibilidad de pagar fianza, o la situación económica del individuo, no son factores que el juez considera.

Si el juez niega la fianza, el detenido puede pedir una audiencia posteriormente para mostrar que sus circunstancias han cambiado materialmente. Una moción por escrito explicando que ha cambiado, al igual que pruebas, deben ser entregadas a la Corte. Estas pruebas pueden consistir en mostrar que la detención se ha prolongado, que el detenido no debe ser deportado porque califica para algún beneficio migratorio, que los cargos criminales han sido descartados, o algún nuevo caso legal ha sido decidido que favorece al detenido.

Debido a que los jueces tienen amplia discreción, no es inusual escuchar que la fianza otorgada sea por una cantidad exorbitante. Por ley, la cantidad mínima que se puede requerir en fianza es de $1,500, pero no hay cantidad máxima. No hay datos completos sobre la cantidad promedio de una fianza, pero un reciente estudio de detenidos en el Distrito Centrale de California sugiere que la cantidad promedio es entre $10,667 a $80,500. Este mismo estudio encontró que detenidos con delitos mayores son otorgados fianzas de un promedio de $47,133, mientras que aquellos que no tienen delitos mayores reciben fianza en promedio de $20,040. Otra encuesta de 562 inmigrantes que fueron detenidos en el Sur de California por seis meses o mas encontró que la cantidad mediana de fianza fue de $15,000, “67% mas alta que la cantidad mediana de fianza ($9,000) por personas con delitos mayores en el sistema judicial estatal a nivel nacional entre 1990 al 2004”.

Se supone que los jueces deben hacer una determinación sobre la fianza de inmigración basada en toda la información disponible durante la audiencia. Pero si todo lo que el juez tiene frente a él es información sobre condenas penales o acusación de crimines, la probabilidad que una fianza sea otorgada o que la fianza sea razonable, es grandemente disminuida. Sin embargo, aun cuando los jueces tienen información adicional, el estudio sobre detenidos en el centro de California sugiere que los jueces le dan más importancia al historial delictivo, especialmente a cargos por delitos mayores, sobre otros factores relevantes.

La realidad es que el proceso de fianza puede ser complicado y los inmigrantes muchas veces no están representados por un abogado y no saben que solo tienen una oportunidad para pedir fianza. Un estudio nacional sobre el acceso a representación legal en corte de inmigración, encontró que de los 1.2 millones de casos de deportación decididos entre el 2007 y 2012, solo 37% tenían representación legal. Aquellos con representación legal se les otorgo una audiencia para determinar su custodia y fueron puestos en libertad siete veces mas que los que compadecieron ante un juez por si mismos.

Por lo tanto, si se supone que los jueces deben preocuparse no solo sobre si el inmigrante es un peligro para la sociedad, pero también sobre si existe algún riesgo que no regrese a corte, entonces proveerles representación legal en procesos de inmigración, incluyendo durante audiencias de fianza, tal vez puede aliviar esta preocupación.

Y si la mayoría de los inmigrantes no tienen antecedentes penales o tienen antecedentes por delitos menores o por violaciones de leyes migratorias (violaciones civiles y no criminales) entonces recibir representación legal puede proveerles una oportunidad más justa para presentar pruebas sobre por qué se les debe otorgar una fianza más razonable o ser puestos en libertad bajo otras condiciones.

En mi siguiente post examinaré las prácticas de algunas empresas de fianzas de inmigración que lucran de gran manera debido a la falta de uniformidad y protecciones dentro y fuera de las cortes de inmigración. También examinare el impacto social y económico que las fianzas exorbitantes tienen en los inmigrantes y sus familias.



Are Bail Companies Following the Law?

Have you ever wondered if the contract you are signing is legal? Maybe not, as many people assume the contracts they sign comply with the necessary laws, regulations, and rules. Although bail companies don’t have the most honorable reputation, this post will show that they are complying with the applicable laws. In California, bail bond companies are regulated by the California Code of Regulations. 10 CCR § 2081 delineates the collection and charges permitted; § 2082 outlines the prohibited service charges; and § 2083 looks at the specific written statements of bail transactions, including the contents and delivery. This post will first examine these regulations and then show how the contract terms I discussed in my last post comply with them.

Are there any limits to what a bail bondsman can charge a defendant beyond the initial 10% of bail? The short answer? Not really. The regulations place limits on bail bonds companies in that they can only charge defendants additional expenses that are “actual, necessary, and reasonable.” But only a few examples of those expenses are written into the regulation. With such broad terms in the regulations, my assumption is that bail bonds companies charge defendants a number of expenses that they claim are actual, necessary, and reasonable. I was unable to find any caselaw in California where defendants who had entered into contracts with the bail bonds companies have challenged the regulations, or more specifically challenged an expense to not be “actual, necessary, and reasonable”. The only additional limitation is found in CCR § 2083, which I will discuss below.

Permitted Collection and Charges:

CCR § 2081 focuses on the expenses that are associated with the bail transaction. It states, “No bail licensee shall, in any bail transaction or in connection therewith, directly or indirectly, charge or collect money or other valuable consideration from any person except for the following purposes.” Those purposes are summarized below.

Section (a) states:

To pay the premium at the rates established by the insurer and set forth on the undertaking of bail or to pay the charges for the bail bond filed in connection with such transaction at the rates filed in accordance with section 2094.

This section encompasses the right of the bail company to collect money for the initial bail transaction.

Section (b) states, “To provide collateral.” The regulation does not expand on this section, but some of the costs associated with collateral are noted in subsection (c).

Section (c) states:

To reimburse himself for actual, necessary and reasonable expenses incurred in connection with the individual bail transaction, including but not limited to:

                  (1) Guard fees after the first 12 hours following release of an arrestee on bail, and

                 (2) Notary fees, recording fees, necessary long distance telephone expenses; telegram                             charges, travel expenses; and a reasonable posting fee charged by a licensee operating in                    a county other than that where the bail was arranged;

For example, if the defendant chooses to put his house up as collateral for the amount he owes the bail agent, the bail agent can charge the defendant expenses associated with that collateral. For instance, suppose you were arrested in Santa Clara County, but the house you want to use as collateral is located in Riverside County. If the bail agent decides to travel to Riverside County to view the home or gather information about the house from the county’s assessor’s office, those travel expenses can be charged to the defendant. The only limitation on those travel charges is that they cannot exceed the amount allowed to be taken as a travel expense for income tax purposes under the federal Internal Revenue Code and Regulations, or the amount allowed by California to be claimed for mileage by its employees.

Bail bond agencies are allowed to reimburse themselves for these “reasonable and necessary expenses” as per section (d). This subsection does not give any examples of expenses that could be charged. Thus, it is completely left up to the bail company to use this broad discretion and determine what expenses to charge the arrestee after a breach of the agreement. The only limitation on bail licensee in this subsection is that the reimbursement may not exceed the penal amount of such undertaking or bond.

Finally, section (e) looks at the repercussions of a forfeiture of bail. If there is a forfeiture of bail, not only is the defendant on the hook for the forfeiture amount, but also is responsible for any of the actual, necessary, and reasonable expenses I discussed above. This could include the costs the bail agent may have incurred in tracking down the defendant, possibly even the cost of a bounty hunter the bail agent hired to find the defendant. This is explicitly stated in the regulation and again the balance is clearly in favor of bail companies administering these contracts.

Without any caselaw to further explain the parameters of this regulation, my assumption is that bail companies take advantage of their position and charge defendants expenses they consider to be legal.

Let’s look at some common terms found in these contracts:

To pay ‘stated amount’ per annum for this Bail Bond. The fact that Defendant may have been improperly arrested, his bail reduced, or his case dismissed, shall not obligate the return of any portion of said premium. This bond is renewable each year. First Party agrees to pay to Second Party a renewal premium in the amount stated above, twelve months after the date on which this Bond was executed. If said renewal premium is not paid upon written demand, second party has the right to surrender Principal, as provided in the CA Penal Code §1300.

This term is in direct compliance with §2081(a), as it describes the basic agreement of the amount to be paid between the bail bond company and the defendant.

To reimburse Second Party and Surety for actual expenses incurred by Second Party or Surety in connection with the arranging and/or execution of Bail Bond or renewal or substitution thereof whether or not said Principal refuses to be released after arrangements have been initiated by Second Party.

This term follows the provisions of § 2081(c), and specifically falls under the umbrella phrasing of “actual, necessary, and reasonable expenses” incurred in connection with the individual bail transaction.

To pay second party or surety as collateral upon demand, the penal amount of Bail Bond whenever Second Party or Surety, as a result of information concealed or misrepresented by the First Party or Principal or other reasonable cause, any one of which was material to hazard assumed, deems payment necessary to protect the Second Party.

Regulation of this term also falls under the umbrella in subsection (c). This nondisclosure/misrepresentation term is legal under this regulation because it is invoked when the bail bondsman believes he is at risk because of something the defendant withheld. It most likely will be considered an “actual, necessary, and reasonable” expense in connection with the individual bail transaction.

Prohibited Service Charges:

10 CCR § 2082 states:

Except to the extent permitted by Section 2081 (c), (d), and (e), no bail licensee shall make any charge for his services in a bail transaction in addition to the premium on an undertaking of bail or the charge for a bail bond at the rates filed in accordance with Section 2094.

This regulation seems to be referring us back to § 2081 for guidance, but without further explanation of these regulations, there is not much to go on.

Written Statements of Bail Transactions:

Lastly, 10 CCR § 2083 outlines specifically what the bail bondsman is required to give to the defendant, shortly after entering into the transaction. This regulation states,

Every bail licensee shall, at the time of obtaining the release of an arrestee on bail or immediately thereafter, deliver to such arrestee or, if the negotiations concerning the bail were not with the arrestee, to the principal person with whom such negotiations were had, a numbered document containing the following information:

  • If an undertaking of bail, the name of the surety insurer.
  • The name and address of the bail licensee
  • The name of the arrestee
  • The date of release of the arrestee
  • The date, time, and place of the arrestee’s required appearance.
  • The amount of bail
  • The offenses with which the arrestee is charged
  • The premium if an undertaking of bail, or the charge if a bail bond
  • An itemization of all actual expenses described in Section 2081 (c) and (d), supported by vouchers and receipts, or true copies thereof.
  • The total amount of all charges
  • The amount received on account
  • The unpaid balance, if any
  • A description of and receipt for any collateral received and a statement of any conditions relating thereto including a copy of any written agreement executed in connection therewith.

The bail bondsman is required to provide a document with each item listed above to either the arrestee, or the individual who secured bail for the arrestee. Most of the items are written right on the contract, but a key term is “the total amount of all charges.” When I first read § 2081, I saw the broad, umbrella-like terms that a bail agent could fit almost any type of expense under and then charge the defendant. It seemed that there were no checks on a bail agent. This subsection provides a slight check on the bail agent by requiring him or her to provide an itemization of the expenses mentioned above, and it must be supported with vouchers and receipts. While this doesn’t prevent a bail agent from classifying certain expenses as “actual, necessary, and reasonable,” it does require them to show proof, which ultimately is better than nothing.

10 CCR § 2083 is the only additional limit that is placed on bail bonds companies and what they can charge as an expense to defendants. Beyond this limitation, if the bail bonds company can show that an expense is “actual, necessary, and reasonable,” then they are in compliance with the regulations.

After analyzing these regulations, I have concluded that the bail companies are complying with the regulations set forth, at least in terms of what is put in the contracts. I was unable to find anything to show how these regulations are used in practice, so I analyzed them based on the exact language of the regulations. The regulations are phrased in a way to give bail agents extremely broad discretion in the expenses they can charge the defendant, who is bound to comply with the contract or risk being returned to custody. It seems quite unfair, but the bail companies will tell you that it is legal. My next post will look at any consumer protection laws that are in place in California to protect defendants from these unreasonable, yet legal charges, and also what, if any, states have taken certain measures to protect these individuals.

Excessive Bail, Equal Protection, and the Plight of the Homeless

The hardships imposed by the cash bail system fall most heavily on the poor. It is difficult for poor people to pay bail or even raise the 10% that is a standard deposit for bail bond companies. This can result in an individual remaining in jail until their court date, or even until their case is resolved or goes to trial. Depending on the severity of the charges, this can take months or even a year or more. Time spent in custody can cause these people to miss work and possibly lose their job. They can potentially lose more than that. The cost of living is high in Santa Clara County and many people are only a paycheck or two away from losing their homes.

For those who are homeless, additional layers of difficulty arise. In my research for this blog post, I was unable to find statistics concerning the arrest and incarceration of homeless individuals specifically but I was able to gain insight about the unique challenges they face from legal professionals, case law, and homeless individuals themselves.

First, it is helpful to define what we mean by “homeless.” The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires all communities that receive federal funds for issues relating to homelessness to compile biennial reports, which are then integrated into a summary report produced by HUD. All these reports use the federal definition of homelessness (PDF, page 14). This definition includes those people living in transitional housing or shelters, or those whose primary nighttime residence is a public or private place not ordinarily used as such.

According to the 2015 HUD report, San Jose had the ninth-highest population of homeless of all reporting cities in the nation (PDF, page 15). The city had the highest percentage of unsheltered homeless at 70.6% (PDF, page 16). This is a substantial population and because of the way homeless individuals are marginalized in our society, they frequently run afoul of the justice system. For instance, the homeless are often arrested or cited for so-called “quality of life” crimes. These include crimes such as vagrancy, littering and public urination to name only a few. They are the types of crimes that the homeless may commit just by existing.

Continue reading “Excessive Bail, Equal Protection, and the Plight of the Homeless”

Slamming Down the Gavel on Judges and Bail

My last post discussed formal requirements that judges are required to use when setting bail for defendants in California. As in many other areas of the law, what you are supposed to do and what actually happens in practice often deviate.

Bail is set by the bail schedule and then a judge can adjust the bail amount. Because the bail schedule is determined by the statutory offense and not the facts of each individual case, judges should not solely rely on the bail schedule when making determinations. Judges have a wide range of factors they can look at when setting bail that I have previously discussed (community ties, risk to society, etc.). Much of the individual information is in PTS and police reports, which judges can review at arraignment. Additionally, during arraignment, defense and prosecution can raise specific arguments or facts not contained in those reports. Finally the judge can, and often does, ask specific questions of the defendant, the counsel, and others present. (See PTS in custody arraignment process.) Continue reading “Slamming Down the Gavel on Judges and Bail”

The Value of Bail is All About Location, Location, Location

If you were arrested and accused of burglary, how much do you think your freedom would be worth? $10,000 $20,000? $50,000? You might be surprised to know that the answer depends entirely on where you committed the crime.

Under California law, judges in each county annually adopt a master bail schedule that fixes the bail amount for each crime in the penal code. It serves as the default amount for anyone arrested for a bailable offense. Later on, a judge or magistrate may choose to deviate from the scheduled amount pursuant to considerations set forth in Cal. Pen. Code 1275, but until that time the schedule serves as the de facto amount.

In theory, a master bail schedule doesn’t appear to be a bad idea. It promotes consistent decision making, which is an important goal of our criminal justice system. It also ensures that only neutral judges and magistrates are entrusted to exercise discretion when setting bail. Imagine entrusting an arresting officer with the power to determine the bail amount for someone who resisted arrest. It is not hard to see how that would be bad for the defendant.

Although a master schedule might be a good idea in theory, the way in which it is implemented in California is just plain odd. The penal code states that the only thing judges are allowed to consider when determining the county bail schedule each year is the nature of the offense: in other words, how serious or heinous the crime is. (pdf pg. 15). For example, making a criminal threat in violation of California Penal Code §422 may carry a bail amount as low as $5,000 in some counties, and as high as $150,000. (pdf. pg 17). The natural follow-up question is what makes an offense more serious in one county than another?

A hypothetical may be helpful to illustrate this point further: Imagine you are standing at the county line dividing Contra Costa and Alameda Counties. You are standing in Contra Costa, and across from you is Joe Blow who is standing in Alameda. Joe Blow shouts “I am going to kill you!” which is a criminal threat under the penal code. If Joe Blow is arrested by officers from Contra Costa, his bail is $25,000. (pdf pg 7). But if he is arrested by officers in Alameda, his bail is $50,000 for the exact same crime. (pdf pg. 11). Joe Blow is simply a victim of geography.

One could make the argument that counties should have the freedom to decide for themselves how serious a given offense is. Take drug possession, for example. A county with a more liberal population may not care as much about simple drug possession, whereas a more conservative county may view drug possession more harshly. Under that scenario, judges may adopt disparate bail schedules that reflect the sentiment of the community at large. This wouldn’t be any different than law enforcement agencies setting priorities for which crimes they will enforce in the community they serve. Since our laws are ultimately designed to reflect the will of the people, communities should have the right to determine what sort of community they what to live in.

That argument would carry greater weight if we didn’t already have a state legislature that is responsible for criminal justice legislation. The California Penal Code is voted on and adopted statewide, with no discrepancy between counties. Although judges may exercise discretion when sentencing, there are limits to any criminal punishment that are also set on a state-wide basis, not county to county. If crimes and their penalties are established statewide, why should bail be any different?

Proponents of county bail schedules may also argue that the schedule is merely a starting point. Any disparity in schedules is not actually harmful because judges have the discretion to tailor the amount to the individual at arraignment. In other words, the system is designed to be self-correcting. However, it appears from my personal observations that it is common practice for judges not to deviate from the amount set under the schedule. I have observed 54 arraignment hearings in Santa Clara County and the judge stuck with the scheduled bail amount in roughly 76% percent of the cases. When it came time to set bail, the judge would turn to the prosecutor and ask what the scheduled amount was, and then simply set bail at that amount. Granted, this is a limited sample from one county in California. I am not claiming that this is in anyway proves that this is common practice amongst judges; however, it does give some indication that judges are defaulting to the scheduled bail amount instead of tailoring their decisions to the individual.

Under the current system, a defendant’s bail amount depends entirely upon the county in which the person is arrested. Currently, Equal Justice Under the Law is challenging the use of generic bail schedules in federal court on the grounds that they violate equal protection. We may not all agree with doing away with a bail schedule completely; however, we should all get behind the idea of eliminating the disparity amongst county bail schedules. A bail schedule should be passed by a government entity at the state level – either the legislature or Supreme Court. In fact, legislation was proposed back in 2013 that would have established a statewide bail calendar; however, it died in Senate committee despite unanimous support in the Assembly.  This type of legislation ought to be revisited because it is a step forward toward consistency within our criminal justice system.

Will Dollars Bring the Right Change to Santa Clara Jail?

Main-Jail1-772x350-2Santa Clara County reports 50% of its jail inmates have mental health issues (see Augmentation of Behavioral Health Services to Inmates in County Jail, p. 2). The news reveals that Santa Clara County has a major problem effectively and humanely handling these individuals. This begs the question: how exactly are mentally ill individuals treated in the Santa Clara criminal justice system? This post attempts to point out specific areas during pretrial detention where the system in our county fails mentally ill inmates, effectively punishing them before conviction and thereby exacerbating their mental illnesses and increasing their chances of re-entering the criminal justice system after release. Continue reading “Will Dollars Bring the Right Change to Santa Clara Jail?”

Can Jail be Non-Punitive?

In the eyes of the law, pretrial detention is not punishment. In Bell v. Wolfish, the Supreme Court of the United States held that pretrial detention is supposed to be “non-punitive.” That is, pretrial detention is not supposed to inflict, or constitute, punishment. The case involved a challenge to the conditions of confinement in a federal jail in New York. The Court determined conditions that amount to punishment violate a pretrial detainee’s due process rights. Pretrial detainees cannot be punished because they have not yet been convicted of a crime.

Ask yourself: “Would I consider spending time in jail to be punishment?” My guess is that the vast majority of people would agree that spending any amount of time in jail is punishment, regardless of the conditions. The horrific conditions of the prison system are well known, given prisons’ prevalent depiction in movies and pop culture, yet jails are just as bad, or in some cases worse. Typically, jails are short term, locally-operated facilities that hold inmates awaiting trial or sentencing and inmates sentenced to one year or less, while prisons are long-term facilities run by the state or federal government and hold inmates with sentences of more than one year. Pretrial detainees, who are presumed innocent, may be subjected to worse conditions than many of the most hardened criminals because they are housed in jails. One individual who was spending time in a county jail facility noted, “I would have preferred to go to prison” because “their medical facilities are better, their food is better – everything is better. They have TV, radio, yards.” As a member of the Santa Clara jail commission put it, “when you find yourself hearing ‘Gee, I wish my son was at San Quentin,’ that sure is an indictment of our jails.”

Now consider the fact that pretrial detainees are subject to the same conditions as those who have been convicted. Continue reading “Can Jail be Non-Punitive?”

The Dog-Eat-Dog Bail Industry

Early in my research, I developed the crazy idea that bail agents might be willing to talk to me. Soon enough, this crazy idea became a reality. I began reaching out to bail agents and found them to be quite responsive. I met them wherever they were. Sometimes, that meant meeting them in the dimly lit back room of a local bail agency. Other times, it meant having a meeting in an agent’s elegant home, looking like it came right out of a Martha Stewart Living magazine (complete with a vintage pale-blue Corvette in the driveway).  I also met the demands of their busy schedules. One bail agent insisted upon multi-tasking during my interview, taking questions while on the phone with clients, whom he called “bro.” (Interesting conversation snippet: “Bro, don’t f*** up with me.”) Eventually, this agent had to cut our meeting short since he was slammed with work. As I exited this bail agency, slightly embarrassed and slightly offended, it all added up and hit me:  the bail industry is really competitive.

After all, there is a lot of money on the line. That pale-blue Corvette must be earned. Bail agents are paid through commission and have to hit monthly numbers. Every premium (the amount that is charged to a client) is split amongst the bail agency, the surety insurer, and the bail agent. Since 10% is the cap on premiums, a high volume of customers is one way to succeed as a bail agency. One way to achieve such high volume is to offer more flexible payment plans for clients. But doing this can make revenues go down because clients often default upon these plans. And in general, a high volume of clients is hard to achieve because of the fact that the number of bail agencies has increased over the years, creating a vast landscape of competition. Potential clients have a large number of bail agencies to choose from. The competitive nature of the bail industry and the money involved has even led some agents to turn to illegal bail practices.

It wasn’t always as competitive as it is now. One long-time bail agent told me that back in the 1970’s and 1980’s the different bail agencies were very cordial with each other. If two agents showed up to the court to post a bond, but then realized it was for the same client, they would work together to figure out who was called first.  Today, that sort of cooperation is hard to imagine. Almost all bail agents I talked to said that the bail business was fiercely competitive. In order to be a good bail agent, one had to be passionate, to love people and love what they do.  But they also had to have the motivation to work independently and bring in large volumes of business.

So how exactly do bail agencies compete with each other? In this post I will examine the four main ways: through location, advertisement, word of mouth, and discount rates. I think it is important to understand how exactly the bail bond industry operates, and how this affects our community, before we decide to make changes to the industry. Continue reading “The Dog-Eat-Dog Bail Industry”

Bail Exoneration: the Rest of PC 1305

My last post explained how the complicated process called bail forfeiture works in California. In California, that process is governed by the first few subsections of Penal Code Section 1305 (PC 1305). The rest of the law deals with the situations where, once bail is forfeited, bail is then exonerated.

After a defendant’s bail is set and he or she misses a court date, the bail is forfeited. If the court declares that bail is forfeited, the defendant’s money goes to the county after a long period during which it might still be exonerated (more on this below). If bail is exonerated, then the “surety or depositor shall be released of all obligations under bond,” i.e., the bondsman or defendant does not have to pay.

There are a lot of ways that, once bail has been forfeited, it will then be exonerated. In fact, most of the law is written detailing those scenarios. That is especially important because few defendants deposit their own money with the court, i.e., pay cash bond, so defendants rarely reap the benefit that so much of PC 1305 tries meticulously to preserve. In this post, I explain bail exoneration via PC 1305 and illustrate the ways that the law is written to favor exoneration, which almost by definition favors bail bond companies. Continue reading “Bail Exoneration: the Rest of PC 1305”