California officials criticize bail rules after Halloween homicide suspects released
Criminal justice advocates have argued that the money bail system penalizes people for being poor
Northern California officials decried the criminal justice system Tuesday after two suspects in a homicide case were released last month while awaiting trial, putting the spotlight once again on the state's efforts to reform the money bail system.
The suspects, Efrain Anzures, 27, who is charged with murder, and Alfred Castillo, 26, who faces an accessory to murder charge, live in San Jose and were arrested in November following a deadly Halloween shooting.
A Santa Clara County judge ruled Anzures can be confined to home arrest with an ankle monitor and Castillo was released on his own recognizance.
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The decision left local leaders fuming.
"I appreciate the purpose of bail reform, but releasing a homicide suspect without bail is outrageous. The pendulum has swung too far, and it’s our neighborhoods that endure the most crime that suffer as a result," San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo tweeted Tuesday.
The San Jose Police Department also weighed in, saying, "the criminal justice system believes they are fine out of custody without bail," despite the serious charges against them.
"Yes you read that correctly, two homicide suspects, charged, out of custody," the department said in a tweet. "Our community deserves better, the victim’s family deserve [sic] better. The taking of someone’s life is the ultimate crime. The system has failed."
Authorities said the shooting stemmed from a road rage incident when the victim reportedly collided with several vehicles. Anzures is claiming self-defense, saying he opened fire when the victim was driving recklessly and toward him, according to his lawyer.
California's money bail system was turned upside in May when the state Supreme Court ruled that defendants can't be held solely on whether they can afford to pay bail, even when charged with serious crimes.
"The common practice of conditioning freedom solely on whether an arrestee can afford bail is unconstitutional," the justices said in a unanimous decision.
The decision came after Kenneth Humphrey, a San Francisco resident, was arrested in 2017 after allegedly stealing a bottle of cologne from a neighbor. He was jailed for more than eight months because he couldn't afford to pay the $350,000 bail ordered by a judge.
Criminal justice advocates have argued that the money bail system penalizes people for being poor. Critics say wealthy suspects can pay their way out of police custody while those with insufficient financial means languish in jail, sometimes forcing them to plead guilty to get out.
Law enforcement and tough-on-crime proponents have long said that ending cash bail jeopardizes public safety.
California judges are now required to look at several factors when determining bail, including prior criminal history, underlying facts of the crime and the suspect's ties to the community, said Steven Clark, a legal analyst and former Santa Clara County district attorney.
"The severity of the crime is a factor… and I'm sure a prosecutor would argue that that is someone who is dangerous to the community shouldn't be released," Clark told Fox News. "But you also have to say the flip side to this which is that you are accused of a crime that you presumed to be innocent of, you could spend years fighting your case and you're found not guilty. Where's the justice in that?"
Sean Pritchard, president of the San Jose Police Officers' Association, opposes the new bail rules and said the release of Anzures and Castillo endangers the community.
"This is an absolute assault on the safety of San Jose residents," he said in a statement sent to Fox News.
Pritchard and other police union leaders are blaming the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for policies it sees as enabling criminals, such as California Proposition 47, which downgrades charges of theft under $950 from felonies to misdemeanors. The voter-approved measure has been blamed by some amid a wave of smash-and-grab burglaries in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.
Several police unions have sponsored a website called ACLU Watch, which is dedicated to "dedicated to fighting for victim’s rights, accountability for criminals, and exposing those that defend the indefensible."
On Wednesday, the San Jose Police Department said a homicide suspect released without bail fled the United States and could be hiding in Mexico.
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"This is why dangerous defendants/suspects should not be released on their own recognizance," the police said.