Case Study in Bail Reform: Rockingham County

As opponents to California’s bail reform law SB10 continue to gather votes for a referendum to take it to the voters in 2020, it is important to note how similar bail reform laws have affected other communities.  Case in point: Rockingham County, New Hampshire. Senate Bill 556 was passed by the New Hampshire legislature with the intent of changing the bail procedures throughout the state.  The law went into effect on August 1, 2018.  In a recent interview on All Things Considered on New Hampshire’s Public Radio, Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway stated that the law requires additional resources, is time consuming and results in the defendant waiting in jail.  She believes that in her county they “actually have more people incarcerated pretrial since the statute was enacted.”

The original intention of the bill was to decrease the number of people incarcerated pretrial because they could not afford bail.  The actual implantation of the bill appears to have had the opposite effect since now more people can be held without eligibility for pretrial release.  Prior to the statute only those accused of certain crimes could be held pretrial without the eligibility of release, such as domestic violence.  Now as long as the state can show by clear and convincing evidence that the person is dangerous they can be held.  The crime must be a Class A misdemeanor or felony but does not have to fall into one of the serious crimes that was previously required.  One of the problems is that it takes time and resources to produce evidence of the potential danger.  During this time, a defendant remains incarcerated.  While it has only been a few weeks since implantation many have asked for a commission to study issues associated with the bill.  The courts have yet to establish standards and consistency on release requirements.

Opponents of California’s bail reform law have voiced concerns over this exact problem occurring when implementing the new law.  Many fear that more defendants will be held pretrial without the eligibility for release under broad discretion for when a defendant would be considered “dangerous.” The California bill has some of the same ambiguity problems that the New Hampshire bill has including standards on determining when someone should be held pretrial without release.  For the referendum to be successful 365, 880 signatures must be gathered within 90 days.

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