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California Eliminates Bail in Traffic Cases

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Bail in traffic cases has long been a bone of contention between defense attorneys and superior courts. Here's how it works.

A motorist gets a speeding ticket and wants to fight it. She goes down to the courthouse to request a trial, and the clerk tells her she must pay $370 "bail" in order to secure a trial date. This practice is flatly unconstitutional, but has been imposed by almost every court in California for years. They call it "bail," but what they're really doing is collecting your anticipated fine in advance. (It can't legally be bail in traffic cases, because bail is authorized only for crimes that carry a jail sentence.)

Following last May's stern rebuke by Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye of the California Supreme Court, the California Legislature last week passed a law (and Governor Brown approved) banning the practice statewide. A judge can still require bail in limited circumstances such as when a motorist refuses to sign a promise to appear or if the judge believes the motorist will not appear for trial.

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