Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, May 24, 2019


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California Supreme Court:

Magistrate Has Inherent Authority to Impose Reasonable Restrictions as Bail Conditions


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The California Supreme Court yesterday decided an issue in the abstract, holding that a magistrate may impose reasonable conditions in connection with bail.

Invoking the rule that an appellate court may address an issue that has become moot if it is apt to crop up again, tends to evade review, and presents an issue of continuing public interest, Justice Ming Chin wrote for a unanimous court in reversing a decision of the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s Div. One which declared that no such inherent authority exists.

Chin’s opinion comes in the case of Bettie Webb who was charged with two felony drug offenses. After posting a $50,000 bond, Webb was arraigned before San Diego Superior Court Judge Stephanie Sontag, who announced:

“You will be the subject of a Fourth Amendment waiver, which means you must submit your person, property, vehicle, personal effects to search at any time and any place, with or without a warrant, with or without reasonable cause when required by a pretrial services officer, a probation officer, or any other law enforcement officer.”

Habeas Corpus

 Webb objected and sought a writ of habeas corpus, which the appeals court granted on Jan. 31, 2018.

Webb is unaffected by yesterday’s reversal by the Supreme Court. She pled guilty and was placed on probation.

Review was sought by the San Diego Office of District Attorney. That county department represented the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, while the Office of Attorney General filed an amicus curiae brief.

The district attorney posed this question to the state high court:

“Do trial courts possess inherent authority to impose reasonable bail conditions related to public safety on felony defendants who are released on monetary bail?”

Authority Is Narrow

Answering in the affirmative, Chin wrote:

“[W]e conclude that trial courts have authority to impose reasonable conditions related to public safety on persons released on bail. We need not here consider in detail the exact contours of this authority. We stress, however, that…this authority is ‘fairly narrow.’…Any condition must be reasonable, and there must be a sufficient nexus between the condition and the protection of public safety.”

In light of the mootness as to Webb, Chin said, “we need not decide whether the specific condition” imposed on her “was valid.” Explaining why the court was deciding the matter though the ruling has no applicability to Webb, he said:

“Questions involving release on bail especially tend to evade review.”

Chin added:

“We are also aware that recent legislation, titled “Pretrial release or detention: pretrial services,” makes major changes in California’s pretrial release procedures….If and when that legislation becomes the law, the issue here will become moot, as release procedures will be governed by statute. By its terms, the new legislation was to be effective October 1, 2019….Following its enactment, this legislation was suspended pursuant to a referendum petition. Now, it will only be effective if approved as a referendum measure at the November 2020 election. Accordingly, the issue before us remains important.”

The case is In re Webb, 2019 S.O.S. 2453.


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