Utah Legislature Votes To Move Away From Reliance On Cash Bail System
A bill aimed at easing Utah’s reliance on its cash bail system passed the state Legislature Wednesday.
It requires judges to release people accused of low-level crimes using the least restrictive condition appropriate to their case. Those conditions could be things like weekly check-ins, drug tests and ankle monitors. They could also include cash bail. Judges have to consider public safety and the defendant’s likelihood to appear in court when assigning a condition for pretrial release.
“They're being held in jail even though they haven't been convicted of anything,” said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, the bill’s floor sponsor. “Many of them cannot afford to post bail. That often results in them losing their jobs and sometimes them losing their families. Individuals who are offered but cannot afford monetary bail often serve more time and custody than they would have served under a standard sentence.”
The bill is supported by the Statewide Association of Prosecutors and civil liberties groups, but not the bail industry.
Critics said bail is the most effective way to ensure people return to court, and argued that moving away from it actually infringes on defendants’ rights.
“A jail booking, a bail bond, and a concerned guarantor [of that bond] helping to guide a defendant down the right path is a valuable intervention tool,” said Will Carlos of the Utah Association of Professional Bondsmen and Agents. “H.B. 206 eliminates bail opportunities at every corner. I believe it violates Utah’s constitutional right to bail.”
Proponents of the bill have called it a “modest” approach, including Marina Lowe with the ACLU of Utah. She said this bill is a good start, but more reform is needed.
The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office already has a pretrial release program similar to what this bill calls for, and Lowe said this bill could help other counties start their own.
“In other parts of the state, this might be a real change in terms of giving judges guidance on what they need to do,” Lowe said. “At the same time, there aren't a lot of counties at this point that have pretrial services available. So in a lot of counties, cash bail will still be the least restrictive.”
The bill now heads to the Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk.