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'It's a get out of jail free card' | Yolo County's $0 bail criticized by DA's office

“There’s no real risk assessment done and there’s no consequences because they’re not even brought back to court for four to five months.”

YOLO COUNTY, Calif. — Denis Bugreyev was arrested and released on $0 bail four times in the weeks before he was suspected of nearly stabbing a woman to death, according to the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office.

The 25-year-old West Sacramento man had been released on probation in late August for a prior felony assault conviction, said Melinda Aiello, Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney with the Yolo County DA’s Office. He has since been denied bail due to the serious and most recent criminal allegations against him which include attempted murder.

The Yolo DA’s Office said Bugreyev was released due to the $0 bail policy adopted by the Yolo County Superior Court in June, a policy the Yolo DA’s office has been critical of, saying it poses a risk to public safety.

“It’s a get out of jail free card,” Aeillo said. “There’s no real risk assessment done and there’s no consequences because they’re not even brought back to court for four to five months.”

In efforts to keep jail populations down to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the Judicial Council of California (JCC) adopted an emergency bail schedule in April 2020. The policy included a $0 bail for people accused of lower-level crimes. The $0 bail policy resulted in California’s jail’s reducing their populations by more than 20,000 people, according to the JCC.

The JCC rescinded that emergency bail schedule in June, but the Yolo County Superior Court decided to keep the policy in place.

“We believe that the current Bail Schedule is working well here in Yolo County and as a matter of public health, we should stay the course,” said Judge Samuel T. McAdam in a June statement. He is the presiding judge of the Yolo County Superior Court. “It is not lost on the Judges that while state and federal prisons and some jails throughout California have been hotspots of COVID-19 outbreaks, we have so far avoided it here. The Yolo legal community is safe, and because of that we have a fully operational courthouse where we can provide fair and timely justice.”

Yolo County’s emergency bail schedule does allow an arresting officer to request for a judge to set or enhance bail, officials with the Yolo Superior Court wrote in a June statement. This may occur if a suspect has multiple pending cases or if the person is on probation.

Between April 13, 2020 and August 31, 2020, 266 individuals were released a total of 305 times on $0 bail in Yolo County, according to the Yolo County DA’s Office. Of those released, 83 people were “rearrested” a total of 335 times after being released on $0 bail in the same county during the same time period.

While the Yolo County DA’s Office is asking for the $0 bail policy to be reconsidered, there are advocates who support it like Stephen Munkelt, Executive Director of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, a criminal defendant advocacy organization.

“The presumption is that people should have their liberty until they’re convicted,” Munkelt said.

He says $0 bail policies do not create a significant risk to the community or disadvantage to the legal system when more people are released before their trial. He says a small percentage of people fail to show up to court or commit a new crime while they’re released on bail. He says the loss of employment and family ties while a person is held in jail awaiting trial are detrimental to communities.

“We need to be releasing more people and be much more careful about who we can’t trust to be in the community while they’re case is happening,” Munkelt said

Yolo County’s emergency bail schedule is currently set to remain in effect for the entirety of the COVID-19 State of Emergency.

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