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California Supreme Court to review SF bail reform decision

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Kenneth Humphrey smiles while speaking with members of the media alongside his attorney Anita Nabha following his release on bail earlier this month. The California Supreme Court has agreed to review a decision in his case that changed the way state judges make bail decisions. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to review a landmark appellate court ruling on bail reform that required California judges to consider a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail beginning in January.

District Attorney George Gascon asked the Supreme Court in March to review the appellate court decision for clarity on when a judge could hold a defendant in custody before trial without the use of money bail.

The Supreme Court ruled that it would not depublish the decision but would consider three questions, including whether a judge should consider a defendant’s ability to pay and whether a judge can consider public safety when setting bail.

“We asked the Supreme Court to look at this case because we believe there is an incongruence right now,” Gascon said Wednesday. “I’ve made it very clear that I’m not a proponent of money bail, but getting rid of money bail doesn’t entail that we will never have pre-trial detention. There are still some people that are either a flight risk and are going to be dangerous.”

The decision stemmed from the case of Kenneth Humphrey, a 64-year-old San Francisco man accused of following his elderly neighbor into an apartment, threatening to suffocate him with a pillowcase and stealing a bottle of cologne.

Humphrey was held on $350,000 bail for nearly a year.

However he was released earlier this month after an appeals court ruled that a defendant could not be held solely due to poverty and found that Humphrey was entitled to a new bail hearing.

At the bail hearing, prosecutors argued that Humphrey should be held without bail because he is a risk to public safety. Prosecutors say they could not ask that his bail be set high based on that same standard.

The Public Defender’s Office disputed that Humphrey would be a risk to public safety, and a judge ultimately ordered that he be released to a treatment facility for seniors.

“The justices have before them a critical decision,” Public Defender Jeff Adachi said in a statement. “It will determine whether poor people remain in jail while those who can afford to post bail go free regardless of public safety concerns.”

Adachi opposed the review at the Supreme Court and filed the initial appeal.

“The fact that the justices did not order the depublication of the Humphrey case bodes well for bail reform,” Adachi said. “That means Humphrey is still the law of the state.”

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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