Months after a state appeals court found that his $350,000 bail was unconstitutionally excessive because he couldn’t come close to affording it, a San Francisco robbery defendant was told Thursday he will soon be sprung from jail before trial as a result of his landmark legal case.
As part of his conditional release, 64-year-old Kenneth Humphrey must sign up for ankle monitoring through the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department and undergo drug and alcohol treatment at a live-in facility for senior citizens, Superior Court Judge Brendan Conroy ruled.
“This is a monumental decision today by the judge,” San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said outside court. “We’re very grateful that the judge did apply the new law and that he’s recognized Mr. Humphrey’s case changed the state of the law.”
Humphrey was arrested in May 2017 on robbery, elder abuse and burglary charges and ordered held on $350,000 bail. But in January, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled that his bail was excessive and unfair, a major victory for advocates in a long fight against the state’s cash-bail system.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra decided in February not to appeal the decision, prompting a critical shift in the system. The ruling upended the long-standing practice by judges of setting bail in fixed amounts based on the charges a defendant faces and their prior criminal history.
Judges must now consider a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail.
Now, prosecutors in San Francisco are no longer asking judges to set bail amounts, whether $5,000 or $1 million. Instead, they are seeking hearings in which they either ask judges to order no bail for defendants they believe are a high threat to public safety, or to grant conditional release, similar to probation.
At Thursday’s hearing, the district attorney’s office asked that Humphrey be held without bail, arguing that he was a threat to public safety, but Conroy ruled in favor of the defendant.
Humphrey’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Anita Nabha, said her client was pleased.
“He’s obviously very happy that he’s going to be able to continue this fight outside jail and continue to work on his health and progress in his life,” she said. “He will be monitored, and I certainly think he will be up for those challenges and expectations.”
Prosecutors have raised broader questions about the potential danger to the public in releasing defendants like Humphrey who face serious criminal charges.
“We need to make sure that when we’re going to eliminate money bail that we know what’s left, and right now that still hasn’t been determined,” said Max Szabo, a spokesman for the San Francisco district attorney’s office.
District Attorney George Gascón — who has said he’s in favor of bail reform in general — has asked the California Supreme Court to review the court of appeals case, arguing that the ruling has hampered his ability to protect the public from defendants who don’t meet the state Constitution’s strict standard of no bail.
The state Supreme Court has until May 24 to decide if it will review the Humphrey decision, which comes as bail-reform advocates work to change the state’s system in the Legislature and the federal courts.
“Thanks to Mr. Humphrey’s leadership and willingness to fight this issue, judges are now required to consider nonmonetary alternatives to incarceration,” said Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin, a longtime bail-reform advocate. “It’s not simply a question of if you are accused of a crime, you sit in jail unless you’re rich.”
Humphrey is set to be released in the coming days and will go into Golden Gate for Seniors, a residential recovery facility in San Francisco that has set a bed aside for him.
Conroy ordered him to stay in the facility around the clock, and said he must submit to searches by city probation officers. The judge also signed a restraining order, mandating Humphrey stay away from his alleged victim.
Humphrey is a retired shipyard worker with a history of drug addiction and a criminal record dating back to 1980, records show. His most recent arrest came after he allegedly followed a 79-year-old neighbor into the man’s apartment, threatened to put a pillowcase over the victim’s head, demanded money and stole $5 and a bottle of cologne.
Humphrey’s attorney said he was simply trying to collect a debt owed to him.
A judge is scheduled Wednesday to set a date for Humphrey’s trial on the criminal charges.