Superior Court reinstitutes $0 bail for misdemeanor and low level felony charges after outbreak of COVID-19 in Tulare County jail
TULARE COUNTY – Days after California courts ended an emergency bail schedule to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in jails, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department reported an outbreak within its inmate population.
On June 26, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department reported that 11 inmates tested positive for COVID-19 during a routine test of more than 200 inmates. The outbreak, the first reported at local jails during Governor Gavin Newsom’s three-month long and running emergency order, led to Tulare County Superior Court reinstituting an emergency bail schedule setting bail at $0 for all misdemeanors and low level felonies. On June 30, Presiding Judge Brett Aldredge ruled the bail schedule will remain in effect until 90 days after the Governor declares the state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic is lifted or until the order is amended by the Tulare County Superior Court.
District Attorney Tim Ward has opposed the emergency bail schedule because it allowed repeat offenders and some charged with serious felonies to be released back into the community. However, Ward said Aldredge closed many of the loopholes from the state-mandated order such as adding human trafficking for forced labor, child abuse and neglect, elder abuse, auto theft, burglary and failing to register as a sex offender to list of crimes that are exempt from $0 bail.
The bail schedule had created a revolving door of justice in county superior courts, where criminals would be released and rearrested prior to appearing in court for the first crime. The most glaring example of the ruling’s effect was 22-year-old Kyle Baker. On April 19, Baker was alleged to have been driving a stolen dairy vehicle with $10,000 worth of property in the bed, which has not yet been found. Baker was initially charged with driving a stolen vehicle, grand theft, drug possession, and misdemeanor looting. At his arraignment on April 21, the court released him on his own recognizance.
Two weeks later, Baker was pulled over on May 3 in what was discovered to be another stolen vehicle. After being arrested and ordered to return to court on July 6. He was immediately released from jail on $0 bail. He was later charged with grand theft auto, looting, possession of drugs and paraphernalia. On May 15, prosecutors filed an additional felony case of driving a stolen vehicle and possession of burglar’s tools for an incident that was alleged to have occurred on March 11, a little more than a month prior to his April 19 arrest.
On June 2, Baker was arraigned on grand theft auto, looting, and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia for allegedly stealing a car on May 30, 2020. The looting charge was later amended to felony looting, which was not eligible for early release under the statewide emergency bail schedule. Bail was then set at $290,000 for Baker’s four open felony cases and six misdemeanor cases. Baker pleaded not guilty and currently remains in custody.
The revolving door of justice came to an end for one week in Tulare County after a Judicial Council of California’s ruling ended the bail schedule statewide on July 1. The $0 bail schedule was mandated by the Judicial Council in April as a way to “safely reduce jail populations” and curb the spread of COVID-19 in the jails. When the statewide order ended, Marsha Slough, a Judicial Council member and chair of the Executive and Planning Committee, gave counties the option to continue the bail schedule on their own.
“The Judicial Council’s action better reflects the current needs of our state, which has different health concerns and restrictions county-to-county based on the threat posed by COVID-19,” Justice Slough said. “We urge local courts to continue to use the emergency COVID-19 bail schedule where necessary to protect the health of the community, the courts, and the incarcerated. We are also asking courts to report back by June 20 on whether they plan to keep the COVID-19 emergency bail schedule, or another reduced bail schedule.”
Ward said a version of the $0 bail schedule may be here to stay. Senate Bill 10 was signed into law in August 2018 and changes California’s pretrial release system from a money-based system to a risk-based release and detention system. Under that system, misdemeanors would be cited and released within 12 hours and those arrested for more serious crimes would be held, without a money bail, based on their likelihood to reoffend or flee. The law was set to take effect last October but the Judicial Council suspended its implementation until this November when voters will consider a referendum reversing the law. The referendum was backed by the American Bail Coalition, a nonprofit trade association, and qualified for the Nov. 2020 ballot in January 2019.