SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A state appeals court Thursday ordered a new bail hearing for a San Francisco man accused of stealing cologne and held for $350,000 bail, a move that could change how bail is handled all over California.
The decision by the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco could abolish the practice of using large bail amounts to detain low-income defendants without giving them detention hearings, according to the San Francisco Public Defender's Office.
"It means judges can't set super-high bail amounts for low-income people who can't afford to pay unless they represent a danger if they are released," said Tamara Barak Aparton of the Public Defender's Office.
In a 48-page pleading, the district court ordered a new bail hearing for 64-year-old Kenneth Humphrey. Humphrey can't afford the $350,000 bail and has languished in San Francisco county jail since he was arrested May 23 on suspicion of stealing $5 and a bottle of cologne.
"...the trial court erred in setting bail at $350,000 without inquiring into and making findings regarding petitioner's ability to pay and alternatives to money bail," the district court said.
"Petitioner is entitled to a new bail hearing at which he is afforded the opportunity to provide evidence and argument, and the court considers his financial resources and other relevant circumstances, as well as alternatives to money bail," the court said.
If it stands, the decision would affect how judges across the state set bail. Currently, the amounts are determined by a chart, called a bail schedule, that doesn't take the defendant's ability to pay into account.
The system has been under attack for some time, spearheaded by Humphrey's case. The San Francisco public defender's office and the nonprofit Civil Rights Corps are representing him.
"We want to start a movement in which defenders all over California demand that judges follow the law and hold new bail hearings pursuant to the Humphrey decision," said San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi in a statement.
"This practice of simply setting bail based on the charge and not the person's ability to afford it violates the constitution," Adachi told KPIX.
"We want all the public defenders and defense attorneys in the state to demand bail hearings for their clients, because their clients are entitled to them," Aparton said.
While Humphrey's bail is up for debate, both the public defender and district attorney agree some kind of reform is necessary.
"Judges are used to setting high bails but this decision says you can't do that anymore," Adachi said.
There is legislation being considered in Sacramento that would overhaul the bail system. One of the alternatives proposed: supervised release with electronic monitoring.
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