Saturday, February 17, 2018

Losing leverage

The purpose of bail is to ensure that the accused appears in court to answer the charge against him and to ensure the safety of the community.

When courts leave their bail decisions up to a chart without regard to a defendant's ability to pay, the courts are abdicating their responsibility to uphold the law.

Harris County is currently under a court order from US District Judge Lee Rosenthal to release nonviolent misdemeanor defendants regardless of their ability to post a cash bond. Fourteen of the sixteen misdemeanor court judges in Harris County (all Republicans) are waging war against the order because it gums up the works.

On January 31, Dutchess County Judge Maria Rosa ruled that setting bail for defendants without regard to their ability to pay is unconstitutional. The case was brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Christopher Kunkeli who was held for almost three months in the Dutchess County jail because he couldn't afford the $5,000 bail in his case. He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor with an offer of time served.

According to the NYCLU, 71% of the inmates at the Dutchess County jail had not been convicted of anything. They were behind bars because they couldn't afford to post bail.

Of course the local District Attorney, William Grady, didn't see a problem with holding folks pending trial. It makes his life easier because after a while, most inmates will plead guilty to almost anything in exchange for getting out of jail.

Mr. Grady contends, much like the Harris County judges, that actually following the law is "misguided." What he means, of course, is that having defendants sleeping in their own beds removes the leverage his office had over them when trying to resolve their cases. Now his office might be burdened with the task of proving their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.


Lee said...

Is this the end of the defense attorney's "meet'em n plead'em" responsibility? Is the end of mass incarceration really as simple as local bail reform?

Unknown said...

I too have no issue hold inmates who cannot make bail / bond. If you just release them the flight risk is very high.

Keep them where that are.


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Shelly said...

Sounds like DA Grady should have an extended sleep-over at his house for all the offenders who can not afford bail. He couldn't have a problem with that, could he? He could really get to know these people while keeping an eagle-eye on them. Let's save the taxpayers some money.

Lee said...

Mr. Goldstein,

Suspects accused of violent capital murder and other violent crimes will still be held without bail or a very high bail. We are only releasing very low lever misdemeanor level defendants whom are indigent. I would personally prefer that instead of the defendant sit in a cell and waste years of their life and thousands of my tax dollars that they return to work and show the court that they are in face productive and taxpaying citizens. Instead of wasting money on incarcerating nonviolent defendants, I would prefer that money be repurposed for our local infrastructure, schools or hospitals. The more than $20,000.00 cost to incarcerate a single person for a year has great potential elsewhere. That could pay for a year in college (or at least mitigate student loans).

Incarceration should be the last recourse to address society's problems, not the first.