The Los Angeles Times on setting bail

Bail was set at a stunning $25 million for Naason Joaquin Garcia after he was arrested last month at Los Angeles International Airport on charges of human trafficking and forcing children to perform sex acts. The presumably unattainable amount was sure to keep him behind bars for however long it takes to get him to trial.

Or was it? Joaquin Garcia is leader of La Luz del Mundo, a church with as many as a million enthusiastic followers who consider him the most recent apostle of Jesus Christ. Maybe his devotees could raise that kind of money after all, or at least 8% to 12% of it to pay a bail bond agent, who would pledge the rest. And if they did, and if he was released, wouldn’t Joaquin Garcia just flee to his home and church headquarters in Mexico rather than hang around L.A. to be prosecuted?

So California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra asked to double the amount, and a Los Angeles Superior Court judge agreed. Bail is now at a record-setting $50 million. At least for now, Joaquin Garcia isn’t going anywhere.

For George Tyndall, bail was initially set at $2.1 million, so he wasn’t going anywhere either. Tyndall is the former USC gynecologist accused of sexually assaulting patients at the student health center. On Tuesday a judge reduced the amount to $1.6 million — a still-hefty sum, but one that Tyndall may be able to meet by putting up his condo as collateral.

He may well be guilty, and perhaps Joaquin Garcia is too — but that’s got nothing to do with whether they ought to be in or out of jail before trial.

The whole point of money bail is that accused criminals are supposed to be able to pay it. Presumed innocent until proven guilty, they’re supposed to get out before trial in order to participate fully in their own defense. And then, the theory goes, they won’t run away because they won’t want to lose their money (or their house or their car or whatever other collateral they put up).

In practice, however, setting money bail amounts has become a ruse for keeping defendants locked up, either because judges believe they will flee no matter how much money is at stake — or perhaps because prosecutors want to squeeze a guilty plea out of them in exchange for their freedom.

But if a judge has sufficient evidence that Joaquin Garcia is truly a high risk to flee, the right response is not to set impossibly high bail. It’s to deny him release on bail at any level. ...

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