Voters may get chance to eliminate cash bail

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 6:46 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Voters in Arizona may get a chance this fall to weigh in on whether cash or money bail should be eliminated.

If approved by the State House and Senate, HCR2022 would put the issue on the ballot this fall. It was introduced last week and appears to have bipartisan support

If approved by voters, if would eliminate cash bail by a constitutional amendment.

“The system is broken on both ends and so we need to fix it,” said Amelia Cramer, a former prosecutor with the Pima County Attorney’s office and now a volunteer with the NAACP. “So we need to get money out of the equation.”

The NAACP says cash bail punishes the poor, fails to protect public safety and disproportionally impacts people of color.

Frequently the poor languish is jail awaiting their trial date because they can’t afford to make bail even if it’s $250 or $500.

Cramer tells the story of a Tucson woman who was arrested for stealing a candy bar from a convenience store. She also had a years old warrant for failure to appear. Her bond was set at $250 which the judge thought she could afford.

Instead, she spent 45 days in jail awaiting her trial date at a cost to taxpayers of more than $5,000.

When she got before a judge she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation.

“Probation was the appropriate consequence for that crime,” Cramer said. “She wasn’t receiving jail time upon conviction and she certainly should not have experienced jail time before she was convicted.”

On the other hand she says, a man who was released on bail after committing two felonies, shot and killed a DEA agent in Tucson last year.

By broken on both ends she says some people “are able to pay money to buy their way out of jail after they’ve been arrested on seriously violent crimes.”

But on the other end, “we have many more people who remain caged in a jail cell for weeks on end while they wait for their hearing when what they’re accused of is not violent or dangerous.”

Today, Cramer made an appearance before the Pima County Board of Supervisors asking the members to support passage of HRC2022, which it did by a 4-1 vote.

“We have to be a society of laws, that important,” said Dr. Matt Heinz, the District 2 Supervisor who voted for the resolution. “But also we have to make sure they are being applied in a sensible way.”

Those who are charged with serious crimes would stay behind bars.

“That presumption of release would not happen if it were first degree murder, rape, child molestation, very violent crimes,” says Cramer.

But again, where to draw the line would sometimes be a bit fuzzy.

“If someone is violent, potentially, meaning accused of a violent crime and the judge is concerned, they can hold those folks,” Dr. Heinz said. “But the candy bar situation, that does not rise to the level of 45 days or even a day in jail.”

What supporters of eliminating bail are asking for, it to change the system to that judges have more discretion on individual cases.

“So what we’d really be doing is asking judges to focus on the risk of the physical safety of the community rather than on money,” Cramer said.

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