S.F. Officials Back Lawsuit Challenging Cash Bail System

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Officials in San Francisco have voiced support for a lawsuit against the city, joining defendants who say they were held unfairly on bail they could not pay after committing minor crimes, the Christian Science Monitor reports. That support brings the city closer to joining a growing number of municipalities that are rethinking cash bail systems some say disproportionately punish low-income and minority offenders accused of nonviolent crimes. San Francisco’s city attorney and sheriff both withdrew their opposition to the lawsuit within the last week, taking issue with an arbitrary system that keeps poor defendants behind bars while allowing those with funds to leave cells between their arrest and court appearances.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera said cash bail requirements create “a two-tiered system: one for those with money and another for those without,” and could violate the US Constitution. On Tuesday, Sheriff Vicki Hennessy acknowledged that she will have to continue to enforce the state law, but that “she is not required to defend it, and she will not.” The lawsuit is one of nearly a dozen filed in eight states since the beginning of 2015 by the nonprofit Equal Justice Under Law, based in Washington, D.C. “Politically, we’re right in the middle of the tipping point of this issue of whether we should have monetary conditions of bail at all,” said Jeffrey Clayton of the American Bail Coalition. “It’s picked up steam in the last couple of years. Activists right now will tell you it’s the third generation of bail reform.”


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