Cash Bail


Pretrial detention based solely on an inability to pay cash bail is unconstitutional. (Graphic by Toyo Ubaldo/Public Justice)

“If I could afford to buy my freedom, I would.” – Phillip Urquidi, Public Justice client. 

On May 16, 2023, the Los Angeles Superior Court issued a historic preliminary injunction (PI) ensuring that people arrested for low-level, non-violent offenses who have not been charged will no longer be detained in LA County jails because they are unable to pay cash bail. The injunction requires the LA Sheriff’s Department and Los Angeles Police Department to follow an Emergency Bail Schedule (EBS) policy enacted during the pandemic but rescinded on June 14, 2022. The EBS was issued to help relieve overcrowding in the largest jail system in the country to prevent the spread of COVID.

LA Superior Court Judge Lawrence P. Riff ruled that the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit Urquidi v. City of Los Angeles had demonstrated that they are likely to succeed at trial in showing 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.

This ruling follows a months-long hearing that included weeks of testimony from experts on the harms of wealth-based detention — such as causing innocent people to plead guilty and a key finding that money bail actually undermines public safety. The court notes that the defendants “do not dispute” that conclusion, adding that LA’s own Probation Department and Board of Supervisors have expressed “profound doubts about the wisdom, fairness, and constitutionality of the pretrial money bail system that operates to detain arrestees in jail solely because they are too impoverished to pay money bail.”

The court concluded: “[T]he uncontroverted evidence shows the PI will reduce the incidence of new criminal activity and failures to appear for future court proceedings . . . and decrease overcrowding at these Defendants’ jail facilities.”

The preliminary injunction will be in effect from May 24 to July 5, 2023 to enable plaintiffs and defendants to work together to design “constitutionally sound, effective, concrete, administrable, and enforceable plans and procedures” for pre-arraignment release of arrested individuals. The court expects the lawsuit to proceed to trial on the merits in 2024.

Urquidi v. Los Angeles et. al, was first filed in November 2022 on behalf of jailed individuals Phillip Urquidi, Terilyn Goldson, Daniel Martinez, Arthur Lopez, Susana Perez, and Gerardo Campos. They are joined as plaintiffs by an interfaith coalition of CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice); its Executive Director Reverend Jennifer Gutierrez; Reverend Gary Bernard Williams, Pastor Saint Mark UMC and Board Member of CLUE; and Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, Professor of Rabbinic Literature, American Jewish University. The case was amended on April 10, 2023.


Karen Ocamb, Medium/Public Justice. “My epiphany comes when (Public Justice attorney) Brian Hardingham questions expert Dr. Christine Scott-Hayward about different studies.”


This Resource Repository provides: News about the issue, the case, and related issues such as LA Men’s Central Jail and the Inmate Resource Center; a Primer on the issue, including terminology and statistics; Court filings, including the court PI order, the case and plaintiffs’ Declarations; Documents and Reports referenced in submissions and in the hearings; Quotes from Judge Riff, the attorneys, experts and plaintiffs; and Photos of the exterior of LA Superior Court on Spring Street, plus photos from inside LA Men’s Jail (from the Exhibition attached to the ACLU/SoCal lawsuit over the Inmate Reception Center), participants in Justice/LA’s March 30, 2023 demonstration marking the second anniversary of a report calling for the closure of Men’s Jail, as well as many of the hearing participants.


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