Recent Stabbing Case Brings Revision of County Bail Policies

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Alameda County recently revised its bail policies to conform to the California Constitution, an issue brought to light by the fatal stabbing case of a UC Berkeley student near campus last year.

According to the county's bail schedule-a set of guidelines for determining bail-defendants who had previously been denied bail for certain serious crimes will now have the opportunity to seek at least $2.5 million in bail.

The case that initiated the change involves Andrew Hoeft-Edenfield, who currently faces murder charges in connection with the fatal stabbing of UC Berkeley senior Christopher Wootton in May.

Under the state constitution, only defendants who are charged with capital murder or are considered to be a threat to public safety can be denied bail, but Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson denied Hoeft-Edenfield's bail request in August.

Hoeft-Edenfield's attorney Yolanda Huang appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, which found that the defendant's bail had to be reconsidered.

In a new bail hearing, Jacobson set Hoeft-Edenfield's bail at $2 million in February.

The appeal caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, which sent a letter to the Superior Court in December urging a revision to the county's bail procedures, according to Michael Risher, the union's staff attorney who authored the letter.

"I realized that the bail schedule was providing for no bail in a number of cases where bail is required under California law," Risher said.

While the county revised its bail schedule in February, Risher said the $2.5 million minimum bail amount is unrealistic because it does not take into account defendants' circumstances.

"A $100,000 or $50,000 bail is going to mean a lot more to a person of modest means than a rich person," Risher said.

Drew Steckler, assistant public defender for the county, said establishing a set bail amount that applies to more defendants does not actually translate into more defendants making bail.

"The guideline bail amount of $2.5 million, were it to be routinely followed in our client's cases, would in effect be no different than setting no bail," Steckler said.

Some counties-including Stanislaus and Marin counties-still set bail according to guidelines that contradict the state constitution, according to Los Angeles County Deputy Public Defender John Hamilton Scott.

Risher emphasized that courts can make mistakes when applying bail amounts.

"(Our superior courts) do the best job they can," Risher said. "The reason that we have courts of appeals, a California Supreme Court and a U.S. Supreme Court is to look at the law and make sure the lower courts follow the law."

Tags: ALAMEDA COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT


Contact Christina Berke and Mihir Zaveri at [email protected]



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