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Minnesota Legislature

Bill to reduce bail for low-risk defendants held over for more testimony

Any amount of bail, even if under $100, can keep low-income defendants in jail and put them at risk of losing their jobs, houses and children.

Proponents of HF741, which would release low-risk and low-income defendants with lowered or no bail, characterized the current system as unjust and extra punishment meted out to the poor.

Sponsored by Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL-Mpls), the bill would require a court to release a defendant charged with a misdemeanor offense, other than domestic assault or DWI violations, on the defendant’s personal recognizance unless the court determines there is a substantial likelihood the defendant will not appear at future court appearances.

If a judge thinks a defendant is likely to skip out of the next court appearance, he or she would impose the lowest amount of bail to assure the defendant returns to court and not set a bail so high that it keeps the defendant in jail.

The bill, as amended, was tabled Thursday by the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division, which ran out of time ahead of a scheduled House Floor session.

Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), the division chair, said opponents will be given a chance to testify at the bill’s next hearing, which could be as early as next week. The companion, SF878, is sponsored by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Mpls). It awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

Noor said high bail amounts disproportionately affect both low-income people and people of color. “This is an injustice in our criminal justice system that we can take care of,” he said.

Bail for misdemeanors in Minnesota can vary from $78 to $12,000. Defendants who cannot pay the amount often use bail bonds or remain in jail before trial.

Criminal justice research shows that “black people are constantly disproportionally impacted by the criminal justice system,” said Leslie Redmond, president of the Minneapolis NAACP. She noted that one effect of the discriminatory criminal justice system is that blacks receive higher-than-average bail amounts and therefore spend more time in jail awaiting trial.

“When we create laws that either intentionally or unintentionally create racial disparities, we have a duty and obligation to fix them,” she said. “This bill gives us an opportunity to move forward together to address this racial disparity.”

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