While the risk assessment wouldn't necessarily set guys like Dorton free, it could ensure them a fair shot based on facts. MacDonald says that 21 other counties, from Illinois to Oregon, have contacted him for tips on implementing pretrial risk assessments. Over the past decade or so, Marin, Napa, Sonoma, Yolo, and Santa Clara counties have installed similar systems. San Francisco has not.

The U.S. Supreme Court order for California to fix its overcrowded prisons has sent a rush of inmates to county jails over the past year, spurring local and state attempts to reduce pretrial incarceration rates. State Senate Bill 210 would have mandated that every county establish a pretrial risk assessment body, in an effort to encourage more OR releases. The California Bail Bonds Association (CBAA), one of several industry lobbyist groups that have together donated more than $400,000 to state campaigns since 2000, sent legislators a letter explaining that the organization "strongly opposes" the bill. Law enforcement officials in southern and central California also rejected the policy. By September, CBAA's website noted that S.B. 210 "died on Assembly Floor, thanks to CBAA's opposition efforts."

San Francisco, which boasts one of the lowest incarceration rates in the state, has been able to follow the realignment plan without pain. Still, every local law enforcement official has supported pretrial detention reform. They all signed the 2011 realignment "Implementation Plan," which recommended to the Board of Supervisors that the sheriff administer electronic monitoring for certain pretrial inmates. The policy has not been implemented.

Angel Garcia, unable to pay the $450,000 bail, sat in jail for six months before he was acquitted at trial. His family lost their apartment and his kids became ill.
Michael Short
Angel Garcia, unable to pay the $450,000 bail, sat in jail for six months before he was acquitted at trial. His family lost their apartment and his kids became ill.

"We're still working through that process," says Gascón.

"I don't feel like my life's back to normal," says Dorton, a month removed from his acquittal. He sits in the living room of a friend's house, where he and his brother now stay. Dorton's thinking about leaving town.

"I gotta start from square one. And I'm angry now."

He'd been a few months away from paying off his used BMW. But after the cops took it to look for clues, he couldn't afford the impound fees — around $2,000 a month — and didn't have the income to make the car payments anyway. Dorton still has his motorcycle and his mattress, though, among the few possessions his brother and girlfriend were able to salvage — most everything else ended up on the curb after the landlord kicked him out. The credit card late fees have piled up and the missed car payments have shattered his credit rating.

"It sucks that they could take 10 months of my life and just say, 'Okay, bye, you're free,'" he says. "A lot of the things I lost when I was in jail, I worked my whole life to get. I worked my way up from the bottom and it's crazy that what this one person says can tear that all down."

He checks his watch. He got his security job back and has to start soon. He stands up, zips his jacket, and grabs his helmet. A minute later he is on the bike, revving the engine. He zooms off, accelerating down the empty road, with the speed of a man trying to catch up to something.

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Paul the Cab Driver
Paul the Cab Driver

Dorton was charged with pimping, which is arranging sexual liaisons for money.  It is totally asinine that this is even a crime.  As George Carlin once pointed out, it is not illegal to have sex with someone, and it is not illegal to give them money; so why is it illegal to give someone sex for money?

He was also charged with assault, with absolutely no witnesses to what happened.  

The woman charging him was a completely disreputable liar whose testimony fell completely apart on the witness stand.  

This brings up a number of questions:  Why was this man charged with anything at all?  Why did the prosecutors office not see that this case was a complete tissue of lies from the beginning? why did the judge not just throw this whole case out completely?  Why is it that the woman was not charged (as far as we know) with filing a false report?  And lastly, and most important of all, why do we citizens allow prosecutors to get away with this kind of nastiness with absolutely zero consequences whatsoever?

It's high time we stop these massive injustices in our system.  The prosecutor in this case should be forced to resign, and prosecuted himself!


One of the major components of the American Legislative Exchange Council is their "public safety task force" - a lobby of representatives of private prison and bail bonds corporations that writes laws and pays state legislators to pass them. Some of their successful efforts have been "tough on crime" laws like mandatory minimum sentencing, bail stacking and pretrial detention. They also attack funding for diversion programs and public defenders, leading to high case loads, inadequate defenses, more (and more draconian) plea deals and long prison terms based on poverty.

Whatever the verdict, the bail bonds corporations make out like bandits for essentially no work, since people show up for their court dates 91% of the time even when no bond is posted. Once a convict is sentenced, the private prisons rob us both ways by charging full price for goods and services made with prison labor paid at the Bangladesh-worthy rate of twenty cents an hour, all the while collecting subsidies and tax breaks in the guise of vocational training.

For more info:


Follow the money.


If you are poor you get a free lawyer.

If you are rich, you have to pay for the lawyer and you dont get your bond back if you are found NOT guilty.

Is that fair?


You know an article is unfairly biased against the commercial bail industry when it buries the following comment on the last page:


"While the risk assessment wouldn't necessarily set guys like Dorton free, it could ensure them a fair shot based on facts."


This whole anti-bail article is based around Dorton's anecdotal case and it turns out that even if a risk assessment OR program was in place, Dorton may not have qualified because of the seriousness of the charges against him.


Guess what, high conviction rates clearly show that most defendants are guilty of the crimes they are charged with.  The presumption of innocence does not mean that society has to be stupid and release mass number of defendants on OR so they can dodge court and punishment for their crimes.  


Reading this article ; I thought I'd picked up an issue

of SFBayGuardian , by mistake....


Excellent and important article. Thanks for the work that went into this.

I couldn't help notice that it was Judge Susan Breall who set the bail at $450,000, in effect sentencing a man not convicted of any crime to jail for months on end (10 months in this case) with scant reason to do so.

Judge Breall was also the judge who handed down the ruling that forced Sheriff Mirkarimi to move out of his homw, cost his family their income, and separated them for months on end.

She also has failed to publicly disclose (although she may have in documents filed at court but not posted online) that she is the Board member of a nonprofit that seeks to provide legal advice to attorneys representing purported victims of violence at home. 



@nancytung Your lack of understanding of the judicial system is shocking. Everyone has a right to an attorney meaning if you can't afford one then you are provided one. So you believe poor people are less deserving of a professional defense than rich people who can afford it? Also, nobody, rich or poor, gets their bond back. Maybe if you read a little closer you would have caught that...


@albert Or if you read the article closely at all you could surmise that the litany of charges that prosecutors throw at defendants helps trump up that number. Trumped up charges to pressure the charged into pleading guilty = high conviction rates = district attorneys keeping their jobs when they trumpet those numbers in elections.


 @sfwtrail I also noticed the bias that seems to surround Judge Breall. She must be quite a piece of work.


As with any long-entrenched and privileged group, ethics in the insular judicial branch is a dicey matter indeed. I learned this firsthand back in the 70's when my family underwent its tragically life-altering experience with the family court bureaucracy. It seems like only the names of the players have changed in all this time. The SF Superior Court, as this excellent article depicts, continues blundering along in its highly destructive ways and heaven help anyone forced into contact with it.  

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