The eighth amendment says
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
But what is excessive has to be determined as relative to the means of the accused.
And what has happened in California reflects systemic violation.
Joseph Warren sees no sunlight and never gets fresh air.
The 60-year-old San Francisco man, locked up for more than a month, said he has become suicidal, rarely eats the jail food and tries to sleep as much as possible when he’s not crying in his small cell.
As a gay man, he is afraid he will be assaulted in the shower.
Warren is awaiting trial on welfare fraud charges.
Charged with stealing roughly $5,000 from the government – an accusation he denies – a judge recently set his bail at $75,000, which he can’t afford.
His only options are to plead guilty or stay incarcerated.
In the same region, another criminal defendant is preparing for trial in a very different setting.
Tiffany Li, a wealthy real estate heir who is accused of conspiring to murder the father of her children, is able to remain under house arrest after posting $4m in cash and pledging $62m in property for her bail.
She has a multimillion-dollar mansion 10 miles south of Warren’s jail.
The parallel cases moving through the San Francisco Bay Area’s courts have shone a harsh light on a system that critics say is fundamentally flawed and unconstitutional, where wealth can buy freedom even for those accused of the most serious offenses while others facing minor charges are jailed indefinitely simply for being poor.
Both reasonable bail and a speedy trial are regularly denied by the states, with horrific impact mostly on the poor.
That is not acceptable.
This could not occur in a criminal justice system doing everything reasonable to punish only the guilty.