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Alaska judges issue order temporarily ending cash bail for most misdemeanor crimes

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Alaskans arrested for misdemeanor crimes will temporarily be released from jail without posting monetary bail in most cases, according to a new statewide order by judges.

The order, issued Friday by the presiding judges of Alaska’s four judicial districts, is meant to reduce overcrowding in jails during the coronavirus pandemic.

Many cities and states nationally have taken similar actions, looking for ways to move pretrial detainees out of incarceration facilities seen as ripe for a outbreak of virus cases.

The statewide bail order was issued “in response to a public health emergency,” wrote Fairbanks Judge Michael MacDonald, Anchorage Judge William Morse, Kotzebue Judge Paul Roetman and Ketchikan Judge Trevor Stephens.

Alaska judges have issued several other orders changing almost every aspect of how court business, both criminal and civil, is run during the pandemic.

The change allows people arrested on a misdemeanor charge to be released “on their own recognizance,” or without posting money for bail, in most cases.

The order makes exceptions, including for domestic violence and stalking arrests, as well as situations where a person is arrested while intoxicated and must be held until they are sober.

It also gives judges the ability to not require cash bail for people arrested on a misdemeanor warrant.

People arrested on more serious felony charges would still be subject to existing bail guidelines.

Police are also urged to issue summons to court rather than arresting people and taking them to jail with some low-level offenses. But the order leaves the decision to “the discretion of the arresting officer.”

The misdemeanor bail change is in place indefinitely, “until revoked,” according to the order.

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