The Los Angeles Superior Courts’ new pre-arraignment system, also referred to as the “zero-bail policy,” went into effect at the start of this month. The new rules only apply before arraignment, which is the period from when a person is arrested to when they get to see a judge and have their charges officially read to them. Under the new protocols, people will be either released or kept in jail based on the court’s perceived risk to public or victim safety, and flight risk. Cash bail will no longer be used as a guarantee that a person will show up to court (for most crimes), which has been criticized for unfairly targeting low-income families.
The changes come after an LA Superior Court Judge ruled – in the case Urquidi vs. City of Los Angeles – that it is unconstitutional for LA County and the city of LA to jail people between arrest and their first court date simply because they cannot afford to pay money bail.
While this guide is not a substitute for legal advice, here’s what will happen if you or someone you know is arrested under the new guidelines.
People charged with a misdemeanor offense or non-violent felony will be eligible for either “cite and release” (CR), “book and release” (BR) or “magistrate review” (MR) under the new system. Cash bail still applies to serious and violent felonies such as DUIs — PC 191.5(a) and PC 191.5(b) — rape (PC 261) and kidnapping (PC 207).
People charged with murder with special circumstances (PC 187) will be ineligible for release; all other murder charges will have a $2 million bail (same as in 2022 bail schedule).
Under cite and release, law enforcement will issue a ticket and release a person at the moment of arrest with an order to appear at their arraignment, where charges are officially read to the defendant. Charges under this category include making a false report (PC 148.5), petty theft (PC 488), and refusal to leave private property or a public building, PC 602(o) and PC 602(q).
Similarly under book and release, law enforcement will take a person to the police station or another facility to take their fingerprints, search them, and check their background. Assuming there are no warrants, or holds from other cases, the person will be released with an understanding that they’ll show up to court. Charges that fall under this category include rioting (PC 405) or burglary (PC 459).
People who are considered a threat to the public (under the new protocol) or a flight risk will undergo a magistrate review where a judge will review their case and determine if the person should be held in-custody awaiting their arraignment or released on “zero-bail” with certain conditions such as avoiding certain places and people.
A judge will be available 24/7 to conduct a magistrate review. If you’re arrested you won’t actually appear before a judge, instead the magistrate will make a decision based on the alleged offense, any past offenses, and if you’ve failed to appear in court in the past. However, it is unclear what exact information the judges will be reviewing because the protocols are new and there is no standard yet, said Brian Hardingham, senior attorney with the Debtors’ Prison Project.
The new protocols only apply before the arraignment. If a person cannot post bail and remains in-custody from arrest to arraignment, it might take them two to five days to see a judge. If a person is released, an arraignment court date will likely occur 30 to 45 days after contact with law enforcement.
However, once a person is arraigned and the situation changes, a judge may impose a money bail — meaning you’d have to post bail to stay out of jail for the length of the trial — or remand the person to custody for the duration of the trial.
Be sure to show up to your court date on the day and time it is scheduled, or else a warrant can be put out for your arrest. If you do not hear your case being announced, check in with the court staff for more information.
If you cannot make it to your court date, call the courthouse where your arraignment is scheduled and let them know right away. You can also call the LA County Public Defender’s Office to connect with a lawyer or have a family member go to court to let them know what happened and ask for a different court date.
You can call the LA County Justice, Care, and Opportunities support center at (833) 522-5263 or visit their website if you need more information about what to do in case you or someone you know is arrested. You can also be connected to resources such as housing, transportation to court, or mental health support.