News & Politics

The Man Whose Case Is Changing the California Bail System Is Still Behind Bars

Richard Humphrey, with bail set at $350,000, has been in jail since last May.

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As California re-examines its cash bail system, the man whose case is shifting state policy is still incarcerated.

Richard Humphrey, 64, has been in custody since last May because he is unable to post bail. His bail is set at $350,000; lowered from the initial amount of $600,000.

Humphrey allegedly threatened another resident in his senior facility building, along with stealing $5 and cologne from him. He was subsequently arrested. Humphrey has previous felony convictions and is now facing four charges as he waits in a cell.

At the end of January, the California state appeals court ruled on Humphrey’s case, also changing the course of future cash bail cases.

The San Francisco Examiner reported, “[T]he court not only said that Humphrey was entitled to a new bail hearing that took his ability to pay into account, but that the state Constitution required all state court judges to examine ability to pay when setting bail unless there is clear and convincing evidence that the person poses a risk to public safety.”

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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in February that he will not appeal the January 25 ruling, now referred to as the Humphrey decision.

“It’s time for bail reform now,” Becerra said at a Sacramento press conference, adding, “Bail decisions should be based on danger to the public, not dollars in your pocket.”

Following the decision, Humphrey was scheduled for a new hearing on February 22. But that hearing didn’t proceed.

“Everybody else in the state of California can now get a new bail hearing because of the Humphrey decision, and Mr. Humphrey himself cannot,” said deputy public defender Chesa Boudin, who called the delay an “outrage,” according to In Justice Today.

Following arguments from the district attorney’s office that the bail could not be addressed until the ruling goes into practice, which is approximately 40 days following the ruling, Judge Brendan Conroy did not hold the bail hearing.

The new bail hearing will wait on a remittitur to make the decision official. Conroy said there was the possibility of a Supreme Court review of the decision, but the San Francisco Examiner reported this is unlikely due to Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye's support of changing the bail system.

In Justice Today noted that although the San Francisco district attorney’s office said, “the decision to delay Humphrey’s bail hearing was made by the court, and not at the urging of the DA’s office,” this is not the first time there has been an issue with George Gascón’s office. 

The Humphrey decision comes amid a push to pass California’s Senate Bill 10, which “would declare the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would safely reduce the number of people detained pretrial, while addressing racial and economic disparities in the pretrial system, and to ensure that people are not held in pretrial detention simply because of their inability to afford money bail.”

SB 10 is currently in committee and would go into effect in 2020 if passed.

Activists in California have been mobilizing over reforming California’s bail system, holding community meetings and court-watching. Some of the key issues with California’s bail system are being brought to light in these organizing spaces, including its discriminatory nature and the fact that the United States is one of only two countries to use cash bail. 

There is not presently another bail hearing set for Humphrey. His trial date will be determined March 13.

“If he were a rich man he would be out of custody on $350,000 bail,” San Francisco Deputy public defender Anita Nabha said. “Because he is a poor man, he has to suffer and languish in jail.”

Emily C. Bell is a news writer at AlterNet.