The State of California has taken a significant step related to the issue of the fees an individual may be assessed as a condition of release for pretrial, probation, and parole. California’s AB1869 was signed into law in late 2020 and went into effect on July 1, 2021. The bill was designed to reduce the economic burden on people who are arrested or incarcerated, including disproportionate numbers of low-income people and people of color, by repealing 23 fees charged to criminal defendants and offenders.
What Fees Are Repealed?
At every point in the criminal legal process, California state law authorizes counties to charge administrative fees. From booking and arrest to representation by a public defender, an individual can be obligated to pay a host of charges. Although state law authorizes such fees, local jurisdictions have the discretion over the specific fees to impose and the amounts to charge.
Fees related to the use of “continuous electronic monitoring” are repealed under the new law. However, the Legislative Council has ruled that while individuals cannot be required to pay for electronic monitoring post-conviction, they can be required to pay for it if ordered to a diversion program. Other repealed fees include those related to work furlough and home detention, drug testing, and probation supervision.
Unfortunately, in some instances, the fee elimination could lead to unfunded positions and programs. This could negatively impact public safety, especially if budget restraints prevent those who require additional supervision from receiving it.
Is Continuous Alcohol Monitoring Considered Electronic Monitoring?
California’s Penal Code defines “continuous electronic monitoring” as the use of worldwide radio navigation system technology, known as the Global Positioning System, or GPS. There are no mentions of continuous alcohol monitoring in the Penal Code.
Despite this definition, it is believed that Continuous Alcohol Monitoring (or CAM) could be considered electronic monitoring under AB1869. Due to the lack of clarity from the legislature, it is expected that counties will interpret AB1869 differently and will therefore treat the use of CAM as they see fit.
Potential Fiscal and Societal Impacts of the Legislation
AB1869’s fiscal impact on California’s 58 counties is projected to be hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Thus, huge budget deficits will be created in many counties. To backfill some of the lost revenues, AB1869 includes an appropriation of $65 million to counties beginning in fiscal year 2021-22 through fiscal year 2025-26. Furthermore, several budget bills have been introduced in 2021 that include additional backfill funding for counties. None of these bills have been enacted into law, so it remains unclear at this point how these lost revenues might be backfilled.
Time will tell if AB1869 is good for California, its citizens, and their public safety. We can only hope that all repeat DUI offenders are ordered to continuously monitored sobriety, that those convicted of domestic violence offenses are required to wear GPS monitors, and sex offenders are ordered to intensive supervision. These resources are not only beneficial for the individual to be able to successfully complete their court obligations but are at the heart of public safety and security.