So Congressman Lieu, what exactly caused you to decide that eliminating all money from bail would be a good idea?

Congressman Ted Lieu of California recently participated in a bail reform panel at the UCLA School of Law. We, of course, know Congressman Lieu as the guy who would like to eliminate our livelihoods and put the nation’s 20,000 bail agents out of business. As an aside, guess who wasn’t on the panel? Bail agents, judges or anyone with a working knowledge of how secured bail actually works. The bail “expert” on the panel was from the ACLU.

Regardless, Congressman Lieu was asked if there was a particular reason why he decided to seek the complete elimination of all money in bail with his ill-advised “No Money Bail Act of 2016.” The congressman said,

“So we decided to take all money out of it because D.C. did it and it works pretty darn well.”

Pretty darn well, Congressman Liue? Seriously? That’s not quite how the outgoing Chief of Washington D.C.’s police department described it. After 26 years with the department and almost a decade as its Chief, she described D.C.’s criminal justice system as “beyond broken.” Beyond broken sounds a long way from “pretty darn well.”

The only thing the District of Columbia’s pretrial release (“no money”) program does well is spend massive amounts of the taxpayer’s money. They do that spectacularly well. Washington D.C.’s pretrial release program spends $230 million annually in order to “supervise” roughly 4,000 accused defendants on any given day. Almost 13% of the people released through the program subsequently fail to appear for their court dates and over 27% commit new crimes while out on the “supervised release.”

No jurisdiction other than the Federal government could afford to spend so much with so little to show for it.

Here’s what D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier had to say to reporters at The Washington Post when she threw in the towel:

“The criminal justice system in this city is broken,” Lanier said, citing what she sees as the lack of outrage over repeat offenders as a key reason for her decision to take a job as head of security for the National Football League. “It is beyond broken.”

The chief talked about the arrest of a man last week who she said was on home detention when his GPS tracking device became inoperable. Police allege the man then went on a crime rampage that started in Maryland and ended in the District. They say it included a robbery, a shooting and a car theft that resulted in a crash that left a bystander critically injured.

“That person’s GPS went offline Aug. 12,” Lanier said. “We didn’t know it. The agency that supervises that person didn’t tell anybody or do anything with it. . . . That shouldn’t happen. And it’s happening over and over and over again. Where the hell is the outrage? . . . People are being victimized who shouldn’t be. You can’t police the city if the rest of the justice system is not accountable.”

Outgoing D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier asked, “Where is the outrage?”

There is none coming from Congressman Lieu. He says the no money bail system in Washington D.C. works “pretty darn well.”

Text messaging defendant court date notifications: A great practice that makes a lot of sense – when it it’s done by private bail agents rather than inept, unaccountable government workers.

The vocal advocates of publicly-funded “free” pretrial release programs have a continuing problem. Large numbers of their clients commit new crimes when released through these programs. More importantly, large numbers of their clients fail to appear in court. Judges, prosecutors and victims of crimes don’t like it when this happens. One option, of course, would be to release accused criminals on secured, monetary bail. When a defendant is released through a private bail agent, there is a tangible financial incentive for the released defendant to do the right thing. The bail agent pays a substantial penalty if they fail to produce his or her defendant in court. To protect this guarantee the bail agent almost invariably enrolls friends and family members to secure the bail bond.

The “no money bail” zealots, however, are adamantly opposed to anyone having skin in the game. They don’t think that anyone should be held financially accountable for the appearance of an accused defendant released pretrial. So in order to solve the problem of unacceptable failure to appear rates, they are now suggesting that simply texting court date reminders will be sufficient to guarantee court appearance.

It is laughable that the hundreds of thousands of fugitives across the country would willingly appear for trial if only they had gotten a friendly text reminding them of their court date.

Further, sending text messages to defendants out on bail is something that many private bail agents have been doing for years. They routinely send reminders and notices to not only the defendant but also friends, family members and employers who have signed on the bond.

One agent, Kahlil Welsh of Orlando, Florida uses text messaging for his own clients. Seeing what an effective tool is it, he founded a company that automates the process and makes it available to other bail agents. You can check out his outstanding mobile messaging platform for bail agents at his ecourtdate website.

According to Kahlil:

“The system is currently in beta testing for a re-launch this year with new features and improved reminders. And if I may recap, text message and email reminders are by no means a fix all solution to defendants failing to appear. It simply acts as an aid to the savvy bondsman who’s seeking to improve customer service and reduce the failure to appear rates caused by forgetful minds. Effectively ensuring a defendants appearance at court will always be a “boots on the ground” hands on effort, best performed by The Private Surety Bail Agent. It is my professional opinion as a 20 year veteran of the bail industry that simply sending  a text, or email to a defendant who has intentionally failed to appear, will not surpass the wealth of resources and the National reach of the local Bail Bondsman.”

Thank you, Kahlil! We couldn’t agree more.

Newsflash: “Money Bail fails to solve Climate Change!”

It would laughable if the stakes weren’t so high and the subject matter not so tragic.

According to their website, the Pretrial Justice Institute’s core purpose is “to advance safe, fair, and effective juvenile and adult pretrial justice practices and policies that honor and protect all people.” They are certainly not interested in protecting or honoring the approximately 17,000 hard-working private bail agents who make a living by assuring that accused defendants actually appear in court.

That said, the actual mission of this outfit is advocacy for the elimination of any and all monetary terms of pretrial release. They want to end what they refer to as “money bail.” (You and I call this secured accountable, pretrial release.) PJI attempts to “educate” policy makers and criminal justice stakeholders through the use of flawed studies, false premises, bad data and poorly disguised propaganda. They routinely disregard any academic studies whose conclusions are inconsistent with their core belief that the use of “money bail” to assure a defendant’s appearance in court is inherently wrong.

The Honorable Chief Judge Craig DeArmond In Danville, Illinois recently wrote an excellent essay, “Bail Reform – Is there another side to this argument?

His article is well worth distributing to the judges, politicians and policy makers in your jurisdiction. Chief DeArmond writes:

“Was I the only one who felt like we were being asked …, no, told we had to drink the Kool-Aid of no money bail reform or face eternal damnation?”

“What I found was the people so vehemently advocating this massive change in the bail system have been doing so under different names and different umbrellas for several decades. What they have in common is a progressive agenda being marketed as “evidence based practices”; the current buzzword in social engineering. Frequently funded by progressive philanthropists like George Soros and others, these groups have a much broader agenda than merely bail reform.

Don’t get me wrong… although I don’t personally agree with George Soros and his world view, nor will I ever be mistaken for a progressive, I have no problem with the fact that they are able to express their views. I take issue however, when we are given bad data, outdated studies, and recycled propaganda in the form of “judicial education” and being told essentially, there is no other perspective.

It does not take long when you start researching bail reform to find alternative positions, studies, and evaluations of the same data which produce dramatically different conclusions. It takes even less time to find jurisdictions which tried an increased use of no money bail and eventually returned to an expanded cash bail system due to the dramatic increase in failures to appear and crimes committed while free on bail.”

This judge deserves credit for recognizing that we are being sold a bill of goods. It is also worth noting that Chief Judge Craig DeArmond presides in Illinois — one of the few jurisdictions within the United States that prohibits the use of commercial bail.

So it’s obvious that the charlatans at the “Pretrial Justice Institute” will say or do just about anything in order to advance their agenda.  However, even in this light, the most recent blog post by PJI is disingenuous, shameless and disgusting.

Cherise Fanno Burdeen — the wing-nut CEO of PJI — claims to have actually figured out what causes domestic violence and how we as a nation can solve this horrific problem.

Even though domestic violence has been on a steady decline for decades, it obviously remains a horrible and heart breaking problem. In the United States an average of three women each day are murdered by intimate partners. We suffer the highest rate of domestic violence homicide of any industrialized country. Thousands of people experience domestic abuse every day. They come from all walks of life.

Cherise Fanno Burdeen, No tragedy too great to exploit.

Cherise Fanno Burdeen,
No tragedy too great to exploit.

Cherise Fanno Burdeen and the rest of the hypocrites at PJI have a solution to the complex problem of domestic violence: End money bail. Seriously. Presumably in honor of “Domestic Violence Awareness Month,” Burdeen obtained the names of four women who were each tragically murdered last year. According to this disingenuous dimwit, here is why these four women were murdered: “because of failed money bail systems.”

Unlike Burdeen, I am not going to exploit the names of these victims. The women who were murdered are real people, not props. But it is important to note that these victims were from four different jurisdictions across the United States – some of which do not even utilize secured, private bail or bail agents.

In some of the cases the accused murderers violated their conditions of pretrial release with no consequence. (In other words, the “supervised” release conditions touted by PJI). The actual facts obviously don’t matter to Ms. Burdeen or her comrades. Her concern is only for her narrative: “Money bail did nothing to protect these poor murdered women.”

Let’s be clear. Publicly funded government-run pretrial release programs don’t do anything to protect the public or victims of domestic violence. Note that PJI spotlights Washington DC as the poster-child for bail reform. The PJI website prominently proclaims that the nation’s capital is “DOING THINGS RIGHT” and “The District of Columbia does not use money to detain pretrial defendants.” Leaving aside the insane amount of tax dollars which they spend, this is the same pretrial release program that placed a GPS monitoring bracelet on a murderer’s prosthetic leg. This is the jurisdiction which allows repeat violent offenders, including rapists, to be released over and over again with no consequence.  Washington D.C. is where the Police Chief recently quit her job, saying, “The criminal justice system in this city is broken.” DOING THINGS RIGHT, indeed.

The critical distinction is that private bail agents have never laid claim to guaranteeing a defendant’s behavior – only his or her appearance in court. Burdeen’s insensitive blog piece doesn’t come right out and state the only logical option which could have actually served to prevent the four tragic murders. It is not “no money bail” as she claims. It’s no bail whatsoever.

This is the tragic irony. PJI’s advocacy invariably ends up promoting indefinite pretrial detention. Should all four of the accused defendants have each been held in jail with no bail? In hindsight, we would hope that they had been of course. But should everyone accused of domestic violence be held with no bail? Should the detention of an accused person – the deprivation of their liberty – depend on nine variables plugged into some “risk score” assessment?  PJI claims that their “core values” support pretrial detention only as the result of due process that determined no conditions would reasonably assure appearance and community safety. The same misguided folks who clamor for an end to “money bail” now advance the unintended consequence of the increased use of preventive pretrial detention. Burdeen and her cohorts have unwittingly become the most vocal proponents of “lock ’em up and throw away the key.” How else would Burdeen propose to actually protect the four murdered women whom she uses as an advertisement for her continued government funding?

Our Constitution’s prohibition against excessive bail means that we can’t keep accused defendants locked up in jail simply because they scored out wrong on a bogus “risk assessment” test.

So called “money bail” is an efficient and time honored way to secure the appearance of an accused defendant. A bail bond is a three-party contract between the state, the accused, and the surety, whereby the surety guarantees appearance of the accused. Ms. Burdeen is correct that private secured bail is not a panacea or a replacement for judges, police, and lawmakers. The prosecutors and judges who daily deal with accusations of domestic violence struggle mightily. They don’t get to blame tragic outcomes on flawed algorithms. Here are quotes from a judge and prosecutor in one of the cases which Burdeen gratuitously cites:

 “It’s not like you can just put information into a computer and spit out what the appropriate bail would be; I don’t think that would be realistic,” he said. “There are people that are charged with making that decision … looking at all the facts and all the input they get.”

The judge defended his decision, while also expressing anguish over its outcome. He said he decided to double the suggested bond from $50,000 to $100,000 based upon his experience and available court records, he told the CantonRep. And he said prosecutors did not recommend a bond amount.

“I’m not blaming anyone … but the red flags weren’t there,” he said.

At the same time, however, the judge also appeared to express remorse over the possibility that his ruling gave Dragan a second, and successful, alleged attempt to kill his ex-wife.

“I feel horrible about this situation,” he told the Canton Rep. “I sympathize with the family (and) with the children — it’s a terrible, tragic situation for the community. I feel terrible about it.”

“I think the judge made what he believed to be a good decision with the information that he had at the time and it’s always easy to look back,” the Canton prosecutor Ty Hauritz told the newspaper. “But I don’t … think (the $100,000 bond was) out of the ordinary.”

Private, secured bail works. It serves to assure the appearance of accused defendants who are released pretrial. Cherise Fanno Burdeen doesn’t like “money bail” or what we do for a living. That’s her prerogative. But it’s spectacularly insensitive to suggest that secured bail caused the deaths of the four murder victims whom she exploits in her blog. For her edification, here are a few other “Money Bond Failures”:

  • Money Bonds fails to improve the Miami Dolphin’s offensive woes
  • Money Bonds fails to balance the United States budget deficit
  • Money Bonds fails to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East
  • Money Bonds fails to spend taxpayer funds (like the $1.3 million the Pretrial Justice Institute burns through annually.)

Because everyone else is doing it. Or because everyone else is not doing it.

A look at one of the lame-brained arguments used by opponents of accountable, secured pretrial release.

And, besides, what’s wrong with something that’s uniquely American?

Anyone in the bail bond business knows that there is an increasingly vocal and strident minority who would like to eliminate our profession completely. It doesn’t matter to them how effective we are at guaranteeing the appearance of defendants released pretrial. It doesn’t matter to them that we go out and routinely apprehend dangerous criminals who fail to appear at no cost to the taxpayers. It doesn’t matter to them that we are accountable to the criminal justice system and to the courts. It most certainly doesn’t matter to them that we pay taxes, support families and serve our communities.

None of the relevant facts matter. They are committed to ending what they call “money bail.” (We call it constitutionally protected secured bail.) The more money that these outfits siphon from the public trough, the louder become their cries to eliminate the evils of “money” in the criminal justice system. The irony is not lost on me that these “free” publicly-funded pretrial release advocates solicit “money” donations on their websites and grant applications.

Outfits like PJI burn through copious amounts of hard earned taxpayer “money” to produce bogus “studies” which invariably conclude that accused defendants should be released on unsecured bail bonds. One of their recurring fallacious arguments concerns the role of private commercial bail agents in the United States.

Popular does not always equal right

Popular does not always equal right

They argue that the United States is the only country in the world that has commercial bondsmen. Sometimes their claim is modified to state that only the United States and Singapore have commercial bail. I don’t know if this true or not, but honestly, who cares? The flawed argument is that since other countries don’t have such a system, therefore “money” (ie: secured and accountable) bail here in the United States ought to be eliminated.

First of all, when I went to school this was called an argumentum ad populum. My Mom had a much simpler description, “If all of your idiot friends jumped off of a bridge would you, too?[1] To be clear, what they are saying to policy makers and anyone else who will listen to their poppycock is that if most countries don’t have commercial bail, then commercial bail must not have value. To show you just how hypocritical and disingenuous they are, they will often follow this illogical argument – sometimes in the very following paragraph – with the claim that Washington DC and Kentucky have eliminated commercial bail and therefore the other states in the U.S. should as well. So they are left with this absurd position: Eliminate commercial bail because the overwhelming majority of the other countries don’t have it. Eliminate commercial bail even though the overwhelming majority of jurisdictions in the United States use it.

They are wrong on both counts. Of course it’s preposterous to suggest that commercial bail should be eliminated because other countries don’t have it. We have commercial bail because it is effective and serves a critical role in our criminal justice system – not because of its popularity in other countries. Besides the fact that such an argument is illogical, what is wrong with something being uniquely American?

I am proud of my profession as a bail agent. I am also proud to be a citizen of the United States. I could be wrong, but I think that – just like commercial bail – the following are some things that are uniquely American:

  • College Football
  • BBQ
  • Muscle cars
  • Thanksgiving
  • Boy Scouts
  • Apple Pie
  • Blue Jeans

The next time you hear one of these misguided zealots say that only the United States has commercial bail, let them know that it has taken the rest of the world a while to catch up with us on NFL football and Harley Davison motorcycles as well.

[1] Sometimes, Mom.

Seven Questions about Bail, the Bail Business, and being a Bondsman

What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding people have about bail?

I think people would be surprised by how grateful the family members and the accused are for the services which we provide. Most bail agents have a desk drawer full of thank you cards and letters. Getting arrested is often a wake-up call that forces the defendant and his family to admit that there is a problem which they can no longer deny. As bail agents we often have a front row seat and even get to play a small part in watching people transform their lives for the better.

We get "Thank You" cards.

We work very closely with family members of the accused and other members of their community circle in order to assure that we can guarantee their appearance in court. This includes working with the parties to establish affordable payments for the bond.

People are also surprised to learn that the bail agent — who owns and operates a small business in the community he or she serves — is almost always personally financially accountable for the defendant’s appearance. There is a common misconception that there is some big insurance company that will pay for failures to appear or that the bail agent can cut some sort of a deal. The reality is that the bail agent personally guarantees the defendant’s appearance in court. If the defendant fails to appear the bail agent locates and apprehends the fugitive. Failing that, the bail agent pays a substantial penalty to the State. That’s why private, secured bail works so well.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the bail bond business?

Our biggest challenge lies in continuing to educate politicians and policy makers about what we actually do and the vital role we play in the criminal justice system. Private bail enables communities to protect themselves and secure a defendant’s appearance for trial while allowing the accused to avoid pretrial detention. The secured bail which is posted by the independent licensed agents in jurisdictions across the United States is the single most effective and efficient way to achieve those goals. We do this at no cost to the taxpayers.

Many politicians and policy makers are unaware that defendants bailed by a commercial surety are far more likely to appear in court and far less likely, if they fail to appear, to remain at large for extended periods of time. Too often we find ourselves competing against publicly-funded government pretrial release programs that advocate the wholesale release of accused criminals with no real accountability.  Accused criminals have a constitutional right to bail. The question is who should pay for that bail? The friends and family of the accused, or the taxpayers?

What do you think about the efforts of Equal Justice Under the Law and their lawsuits seeking to end “money bail”?

Not much. It’s possible they have good intentions but they are naïve, very entitled and very miss-informed young men who have no real understanding of our criminal justice system or the purpose of bail. They are using these lawsuits and the threat of lawsuits to bully and extort small municipalities. They hold press conferences touting their goal of “ending the American money bail system.” But what they are really seeking is the immediate release of any defendant who simply says that he cannot afford the required bail. They believe that “caging” people is inherently wrong. Well, there is a reason we have jails.

This outfit claims that defendants are jailed because they are poor. The truth is that defendants are jailed because there is probable cause to believe that they committed a crime. The community has a strong vested interest in securing their appearance at trial. These lawsuits seek to force communities to immediately release accused criminals based solely on their unsubstantiated claim that they can’t secure their bond. This is absurd, and dangerous.

What do you think of current efforts to change the role of money in bail? What do you say to critics who contend using money in bail is unfair to poor people?

Money incentivizes people. People work for it and value it. A key reason why secured bail works so well is because people don’t want to lose their own money. The family of the defendant doesn’t want to lose money. The defendant doesn’t want to lose money and the bail agent certainly doesn’t want to lose money. Why do we require “money deposits” when we rent an apartment? By using a private licensed bail agent, friends and family of the accused pay only a small fraction of the bail amount (in most jurisdictions 10%, and strictly regulated by the State). The bail agent then pledges the entire penal amount of the bail bond to the court.

Affluent people don’t always need to use a bail agent to secure their bonds. They post their own assets and the fear of losing those assets (usually money) secures their appearance for trial. They are hardly “buying their way out” of jail. Rather, they secure their appearance by providing the court with tangible collateral security for their bail bond.

Bail agents permit bail for only a fraction of what the court requires and typically offer affordable installment plans to facilitate payment. Bail agents don’t discriminate against the poor. Rather, we routinely enable those of lesser means to secure their pretrial release by working with their family members, friends and social network. Ironically, the same voices that cry for an end to “money bail” frequently advocate GPS monitoring, drug testing and other cumbersome and very expensive measures that have little or nothing to do with securing the appearance of the accused at trial.

Most bail agents agree that there ought to be a mechanism to secure the pretrial release of truly indigent non-violent first time offenders with strong community ties. This was the original incentive for bail reform.  Today, most of the larger taxpayer-funded government pretrial release programs no longer even screen for indigence. The EJUL lawsuits seek the immediate release of accused criminals based upon their own unsubstantiated claim that they cannot secure their bond.

Detractors of private secured and accountable bail claim that the poor languish in jail solely due to their inability to secure bail. Almost always this proves to be untrue. The majority of pretrial jail inmates with low bonds almost invariably have other holds such as immigration and previous warrants for failure to appear or probation violations, etc. It’s an unfortunate myth that bail discriminates against the poor.

What’s the only thing worse than the telephone ringing at all hours of the night and day?

The telephone not ringing at all hours of the night and day.

How would the criminal justice system function without financially secured bail?

Not very well. Look no further than Washington D.C. and Kentucky for answers to that question. Those jurisdictions spend enormous sums of taxpayer money with very little to show for it. The only thing that matters in a pretrial release decision is whether the accused defendant will appear and whether there is an acceptable risk to public safety in releasing the defendant. The larger publicly-funded release programs like those in Kentucky and Washington D.C. fail on both counts. They do a lousy job of ensuring appearance and almost nothing to assure public safety. They claim they “supervise” through the use of drug testing, GPS bracelets and the like but how well can you claim to monitor behavior when you can’t even guarantee appearance?

As an example, Washington D.C.’s pretrial release program recently placed a GPS tracker on an accused murderer’s fake leg to assure his house arrest. The defendant promptly swapped prosthetic limbs and left his house to go murder someone. Right up until the police obtained a search warrant and found the fake leg with the GPS tracker still attached, the pretrial release employees maintained that the defendant whom they were “monitoring” was still confined to his apartment. In Kentucky, accused defendants are regularly released even with a history of many prior failures to appear.

In short, most of these publicly-funded pretrial release programs fail in assuring appearance and do nothing to protect public safety. They are great successes, however, at spending tax dollars.

Their latest panacea is “risk assessment.” They claim that by utilizing often-times secret algorithms that they can accurately predict who will commit future crimes and who will appear in court. These so-called “risk-based decision tools” are a cynical attempt to evade any accountability. People like judges are no longer responsible or accountable for release decisions; it becomes simply a matter of risk data analytics. What you end up with is a system that releases dangerous felons with prior failures to appear because they score out correctly. Non violent defendants with strong community ties remain locked up because of “brave new world” risk assessment scores that predict the likelihood of future crimes.

Any advice for new bail bondsman?

 Bail bonding is real risk assessment. We are in the business of risk and the stakes are high. Listen. Listen carefully. Practice listening. Listen to what they are saying and listen carefully to what they are not saying.

Get political. Be active in your community. If you don’t have a terrific work ethic, consider finding another line of work. Learn everything that you can about everything that you can. Join and participate in your local, state and national bail associations. It’s not the bonds you write that will ensure your success; it’s the bonds you don’t write.  Don’t lie to yourself. Keep your word.

Watch out for identical twins.

How to Become an Indentured Servant instead of a Bail Bondsman in Four Easy Steps.

Step 1: Enter into a liable bail agent contract with an unscrupulous Company. Sometimes this is an insurance company itself. More often it’s a managing general agent or large operator with multiple offices. If you weren’t so concerned with getting paper at a low rate, you’d ask about the origins of those multiple offices.  But don’t ask that question and don’t ask why they are so willing to give you low cost paper on such favorable terms. They don’t even want much in the way of contract collateral. Which is a good thing, since you don’t have any. Congratulate yourself on getting a lower rate for your paper than all of the long-time established bondsman in your jurisdiction.

Indentured ServantStep 2: Write lots of bonds. Delude yourself into thinking that they are good bonds even though they lack the full premium and any sort of tangible collateral. Tell yourself this lie over and over: The indemnitors will pay me the face value of the bond if it goes bad. Believe this lie even in the face of the fact that they don’t even have the 10% premium, much less any realistic ability to raise the full bond amount.  If, even with your extraordinary capacity for self-delusion, you can’t quite convince yourself of this lie then tell yourself a different lie: You’ll be able to find him if he skips. Lie to yourself that the defendant is a U.S. citizen. Sort of. Even though he was born in the Dominican Republic.

Step 3: Report your executed bonds infrequently. The life-long bondsman down the street reports his executed bonds weekly.  You have enough bond powers in your inventory, however, that you only need to report to the Company once every three or four months. When you do report your executed bonds, cherry pick the report and only include a small fraction of all the executed bonds.  Report and pay for just enough bond powers to keep the flow going and to avoid completely depleting your very generous power inventory.  Drive a really nice car even if you can’t afford it. Tell yourself that appearances count. Keep yours up even in the face of increasing non-appearances (by defendants in court). Use today’s premium to pay for last month’s losses. Rob Peter to pay Paul. Repeat.

Step 4: When your friends at your Company complete their “routine” audit of your agency, they will act shocked that you have executed virtually all of the bond powers in your inventory.  They will ask you for the premium you owe them on the executed bond powers.  When you honestly tell them that you cannot pay the entire amount that is due to them all at once, they will remind you of what you were forced to learn back when you first earned your bail license. That portion of the premium belonging to the Company is trust funds, which you are required to accept and forward to them in a fiduciary capacity. You have committed — they will remind you — larceny by embezzlement.  Decide to avoid criminal charges, jail time and the loss of your bail license by agreeing to their “terms”. You no longer have a low rate for paper. You now have, instead, a partner. That’s the term they will use, anyhow.

I think indentured servant is more accurate. If you don’t like your new partners or the fact that they take 50% or more of everything coming in your door, remind yourself that you made your own bed. They will tell you these terms will last only until they are made whole. Here is a hint: They will never be made whole and you will never get a square count.

Some of us check references and conduct background checks before we underwrite even a $500 bond. Some of us conduct no due diligence whatsoever when selecting the company we keep. We probably get what we deserve.

Absurd Tragedy illustrates inadequacies of Government-run Pretrial Release Programs

The vocal detractors of “money bail” often point to Washington D.C. as shining example of how things could be if we eliminated secured accountable private bail. Sadly, they couldn’t be more right.

In Washington D.C. they release 85% of accused criminals awaiting trial on unsecured bail through such a program. Program administrators claim that a whopping 87% of those released through their bloated government agency actually show up to court, though this figure is highly suspect. Even if accurate, having 13% of all accused criminals not show for trial hardly seems worth bragging about. Any bondsman who had 13% of his defendants on the lam would be looking for a new line of work.

Washington D.C. has tens of thousands of open felony warrants, and of course no one from the Pretrial Services Agency goes out looking for any of them. They do claim to send friendly text messages — which surely has D.C.’s most dangerous fugitives quaking in their boots.

On paper the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia looks fantastic. In return for the hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer dollars ($231,304,986 in 2015) they produce beautiful four-color reports and lofty mission statements like this:

The GPS tracker was attached to the suspect's fake leg.

The GPS tracker was attached to the suspect’s fake leg.

The Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia (PSA) assists judicial officers in both the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and the United States District Court for the District of Columbia by conducting a risk assessment for every arrested person who will be presented in court and formulating release or detention recommendations based upon the arrestee’s demographic information, criminal history, and substance abuse and/or mental health information.

For defendants who are placed on conditional release pending trial, PSA provides supervision and treatment services that reasonably assure that they return to court and do not engage in criminal activity pending their trial and/or sentencing.

PSA supervises approximately 16,000 defendants each year, and has oversight for approximately 4,000 individuals on any given day. PSA’s caseloads include individuals being supervised on a full range of charges from misdemeanor property offenses to felony murder. PSA administers evidence-based and data-informed risk assessment and supervision practices to identify factors related to pretrial misconduct and to maximize the likelihood of arrest-free behavior and court appearance during the pretrial period. PSA continues to improve its identification of defendants who pose a higher risk of pretrial failure, enhance its supervision and oversight of these defendants.

Supervise defendants to support court appearance and enhance public safety. PSA effectively monitors or supervises pretrial defendants to promote court appearance and public safety.

It sounds impressive, right? Of course most jurisdictions would be hard pressed to budget $230 million in order to supervise 4,000 defendants. (It’s nice to be the Federal Government.) Regardless, the Pretrial Services Agency has served the District of Columbia for nearly 50 years and is widely recognized by advocates of publicly funded pretrial release programs as a national leader in the field of pretrial supervision. They regard the Pretrial Services Agency’s “innovative supervision and treatment programs” as models for the criminal justice system.

What does this actually mean when they brag about how well this government program supervises and monitors accused criminals who are released pretrial? According to their own questionable records, more than 13 of every 100 released to their “supervision” abscond. And as for the ones that don’t become fugitives?  How, precisely, are they supervised in order to support court appearance and enhance public safety?

In April of this year, Quincy Green, 44, was arrested in Washington D.C. and accused of gun charges. He was released from jail pretrial through the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia. Green was enrolled in the program’s most restrictive form of pretrial release:  a GPS tracking bracelet. He joined the ranks of some 400 other defendants in D.C. who are awaiting trial and roaming about the capital while wearing a GPS tracker.

On May 19, 2016, Dana Hamilton was fatally shot. D.C. police suspected that Quincy Green was the murderer but the Pretrial Services Agency insisted that Green was confined to his apartment and that the GPS tracker proved he was not in the area where the murder took place. Eyewitness testimony and even sightings of Green by police officers were dismissed because the agency’s GPS data “proved” otherwise.

Finally the police obtained a search warrant based in part on a statement that the “devise barely moved” over the course of three days, something that somehow escaped the notice of the pretrial agency engaged in actively “monitoring” his whereabouts.

Police found the GPS tracking devise in Green’s apartment, attached to his prosthetic leg.

“I don’t understand how someone could put this device on a prosthetic leg,” said Sgt. Matthew Mahl, chairman of the D.C. police union. “It is frustrating for us as police officers to have one of our defendants released, especially when talking about dangerous crime like guns–and then to know that the accountability for these defendants isn’t always up to par.”

The director of the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia said all the right things, of course, including “This is the first instance where something like this has happened, and the results were tragic.”

It’s no doubt the first time they put a GPS tracker on a fake leg but it’s certainly not the first or last time that they release violent criminals with no one held accountable for either appearance in court or public safety. Guess how many employees of the pretrial agency will be fired over the murder of Dana Hamilton? Do you think they will cancel the contract with the private contractor who supplies and fits the GPS bracelets on the accused criminals they release? It’s naive to think that either will happen. Rather, the pretrial releases agency will continue to sell gullible taxpayers and politicians a bill-of-goods, that they safely release and supervise accused criminals.

Imagine the immense indifference and utter apathy required in order to fit a GPS tracker to a fake leg. This is far more than a forgivable lapse or simple mistake. This is the act of a person with absolute security that comes from knowing he cannot actually be held accountable. You would never ever find a bondsman making such a mistake since by definition he or she is accountable.  This kind of couldn’t-possibly-care-less attitude thrives amongst government employees where no one is actually held responsible for what happens. The budget of Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia will not be adjusted one penny following this tragedy. After a flurry of memorandums regarding not fitting the GPS trackers over a sock, the murder of Dana Hamilton will be quickly forgotten.

But it will not be forgotten by the 72-year old mother of the murdered victim: “This was the worst thing that ever happened to me. That man was supposed to be in his house.”

This week’s hare-brained alternative to Real Accountability

Just ask the fugitives to pretty please come to court.

The preface: What we do is simple. We secure the pretrial release of accused defendants by entering into a written agreement with the State. This agreement (called a bail bond) guarantees the State that we will have the accused defendant in court each and every time as required in order for their criminal case to be adjudicated. If the defendant fails to appear and becomes a fugitive, we go out and locate, apprehend and surrender him or her back to the jurisdiction of the court. If we fail in this obligation, we pay a substantial cash penalty to the State, usually an amount equal to 1,000% of what we grossed for writing the bond. We are excellent at what we do, since bondsman who fail in their obligations quickly go out of business. In summary:

  • We secure their release from jail and pledge real money to the State to secure their appearance.
  • When a defendant fails to appear we locate, apprehend, and surrender them to jail.
  • In the rare cases where we are unable to arrest and return the fugitive, we pay a substantial cash penalty to the State.

We do this quietly and efficiently and at no cost to the taxpayers. We don’t bill the State for all the days that our defendants are not taking up jail space, nor do we bill taxpayers for routinely arresting and returning our bail skips. We play a vital role in the criminal justice system.

When you remove real accountability from pretrial release decisions, the results are predictable.

For example, in Philadelphia, where the courts routinely utilize government-run bail schemes instead of financially secured pretrial releases, defendants fail to appear in great numbers and no one is held accountable.

In December of 2009 The Inquirer reported that Philadelphia’s court system was in complete disarray. In an outstanding special report titled Justice: Delayed, Dismissed, Denied, they reported that some 47,000 wanted fugitives were on the street:

“The court’s bail system is broken. Defendants skip court with impunity, further traumatizing victims who show up for hearings that never take place.

There are almost 47,000 Philadelphia fugitives on the streets. Philadelphia is tied with Essex County, N.J. – home of Newark – for the nation’s highest fugitive rate. To catch them, the city court system employs just 51 officers – a caseload of more than 900 fugitives per officer.

In a sign of the system’s disarray, court officials had trouble answering when The Inquirer asked how much fugitives owed taxpayers in forfeited bail. At first, they said the debt was $2 million. Then they pegged it at $382 million. Finally, they declared it was a staggering $1 billion.”

The solution to having so many fugitives would seem obvious. Hire additional officers to go locate and arrest these criminals. And stop releasing defendants on unsecured fantasy bail bonds where no one is held accountable for their appearance in court. Instead, Philadelphia officials had a better idea. They simply erased 19,400 warrants from the system. Seriously. From the Inquirer:

“But in a sweeping move to lower Philadelphia’s staggering tally of 47,000 fugitives, top court officials have quietly dropped criminal charges against Sanchez and more than 19,000 other defendants who skipped court.

At the urging of Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille and District Attorney Seth Williams, Philadelphia judges closed criminal cases and canceled fugitive bench warrants for thousands of accused drug dealers, drunken drivers, thieves, prostitutes, sex offenders, burglars, and other suspects.

“They were clogging up the system,” said Castille, a former Philadelphia district attorney. “You’re never going to find these people. And if you do, are you going to prosecute them? The answer is no.”

Of course the Inquirer was able to find some of these fugitives.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Reginald Newkirk, who had been facing two drunken-driving charges. Reached at his current home in Watha, N.C., Newkirk was told that the charges had been withdrawn. “I’m glad to hear that.”

In Newkirk’s 1991 arrests, police determined that his blood-alcohol levels were 0.273 and 0.277 – almost three times the legal threshold for intoxication at the time. Asked whether he had been drunk at the time, Newkirk, now 61, replied, “More or less.”

Another fugitive, Alfred Carter, who fled in 1989 before he was sentenced for a strong-arm robbery, is now living in Washington.

His conviction was set aside in an attack in which he admitted he left his victim dazed, weeping, and bleeding on a sidewalk in West Philadelphia.

“That’s good,” said Carter, 60. “I’m glad it’s dropped.”

And what about the nearly $1 billion owed by bail jumpers and their families who signed? Like the warrants, Philadelphia officials just pushed a button and made the problem disappear.

“In a single act, nearly $1 billion in debt owed to Philadelphia by onetime fugitives has disappeared.

Philadelphia’s court system, at the request of the city, wiped off the books longtime debt owed by tens of thousands of criminal defendants who failed to appear for their court dates.”

The order follows extensive reforms that came after The Inquirer published a series of articles in 2010 that shed light on widespread systemic problems in the city courts, including an ineffective bail system that for decades imposed no consequences for skipping court.

Criminal defendants are required to post 10 percent of bail in cash to earn release. Before recent court reforms, many routinely fled – on paper forfeiting the remaining 90 percent owed – but in practice little was done to catch them or collect the debt.”

In summary, Philadelphia has tens of thousands of fugitives because they are released from jail on unsecured bonds with no financial incentive to appear in court and no real accountability. Their solution to this horrendous problem was to purge the warrants and pretend that it never happened. Score one for the criminals; the accused defendants who actually went to court were saps. The same environment created $1 billion in uncollected (and unsecured) bail forfeitures. Philadelphia officials had a similar solution. They pushed a button and made the $1 billion in fantasy bail forfeitures disappear. Score another win for the criminals.

In Florida, where I live and write bail for a living, I have 60-days in which to timely satisfy a bail forfeiture, either by producing the fugitive defendant or by paying the forfeited bail amount. If I fail to do, I am prohibited from writing additional bail. I am literally put out-of-business for failing my obligation to the State. In addition, a civil judgment is entered against me and against the insurance company that backs my bail. If the insurance company fails to pay the judgment timely, they are prohibited from writing any bail. This is called accountability.

You would think that Philadelphia — in the light of the consequences of their experience with unsecured bail with no real accountability — would be open to instituting a pretrial release system with secured, financially accountable bail. You would be wrong.

Which brings us to our whack-job of the week. Cherise Fanno Burdeen. Cherise Fanno Burdeen is the Executive Director of an outfit called “Pretrial Justice Institute”. Ms. Burdeen is a staunch detractor of “money” bail. (Her position on “money” grocery stores and “money” police officers is unknown at this time.)

Cherise Fanno Burdeen, Just say "pretty please!"

Cherise Fanno Burdeen,
Just say “pretty please!”

Cherise Fanno Burdeen has a better idea than secured pretrial releases and real accountability. She thinks we are missing the point if we have the nerve to actually jail criminals who fail to appear for court. Here is what she told the Inquirer:

“The vast majority of people who fail to appear in court are not . . . trying to evade justice. For the most part, these are people who the courts don’t provide robust reminder systems, much like you or I get for haircuts or doctor’s appointments. The courts didn’t provide practices that doctors’ offices and salons learned a long time ago can nearly eradicate failure to appear.”

So if you are a bondsman who can’t celebrate Memorial Day Weekend with your family because you are busy chasing down a wanted fugitive, keep in mind that it’s your own fault. According to this dingbat Cherise Fanno Burdeen, you should have sent your client a friendly reminder and simply asked him respectfully and politely to “pretty please” go to his court date.

Amazingly , according to the Inquirer, Philadelphia now intends to actually use this mild-mannered lame-brained and naïve approach. 

When the number of open felony warrants sky rockets once again, city officials will know exactly what to do.

Envisioning the End of “Money Bail”

A glimpse into a criminal justice system where no one is held accountable for the accused defendant’s appearance in court.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

The money police officer’s many years of experience tells him that something is not right. As he parks his money patrol car and steps out to talk with the young man who has aroused his suspicions, the young man suddenly bolts, sprinting down the sidewalk in complete disregard of the money officer’s shouted orders to stop. The suspect is wearing money designer sneakers but the officer is a regular at his money gym and quickly runs him down. He cuffs the young man. His suspicions are confirmed when he finds a small amount of money drugs in the young man’s pocket. He reads the suspect his rights and places him under arrest. The officer attempts to utilize the new money database system in order to fully confirm the young man’s identification and check for holds, but the money database is — as is usually the case lately —slow and buggy. The officer then un-cuffs the young man and issues him a citation. The money officer also verbally confirms the written citation and advises the young man that he must appear in court for his case.

The young man laughs and laughs when he later describes this encounter to his friends.

The young man misses his court date.

Due to the extremely high number of open bench warrants, the money judge orders the Clerk to instead set another court date and mail the young man another notice to appear.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

It occurs to the defendant once again that he is in really big trouble. In spite of the chilly temperature of the courtroom, beads of sweat appear on his upper lip as he listens to the State read the criminal charges that they are filing against him. Following the proceeding, the money lawyer advises him that the money bailiff doesn’t want them talking in the courtroom hallway. So they cross the street to the money Starbucks. After ordering money coffee, the money lawyer advises the defendant that his fee for representation will be $120,000.00. The defendant flinches at this but the money lawyer reminds him that the government is claiming that he fleeced millions of dollars from the taxpayers.

Without committing to the payment of his fee, the defendant advises the money lawyer that he will call him soon. The money lawyer leaves in his money Lexus.

The defendant sips the last of his money coffee and wonders how far $120,000.00 will go in Costa Rica.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

After being booked into the jail, the defendant meets with a disinterested clerk in a small office. The clerk advises him that he needs to drop urine once a week at a cost to him of $40 per visit.

“But my case isn’t even a drug case,” says the defendant.

The clerk appears annoyed by the question. She appears annoyed by the defendant.

“This is the only way you leave jail, understand?” It’s a question but she isn’t asking him anything. The defendant wonders what happens if he cannot afford to pay $40 each week but is afraid to ask her.

Instead he asks, “How long is this for?”

She says for as long as your case is open, which will be a lot longer if you miss any of the weekly drug tests.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

The money judge orders the defendant to be released from jail on a GPS monitoring bracelet.  This is the best the money judge can do, ever since they eliminated money bail. The defendant is ordered to pay $214 each month for his electronic “monitoring.” He will need a credit card and a land line at his house. He has neither.

“Get them,” says the judge.

Months later the defendant feels the hot tears of shame and embarrassment roll down his face. He can take the teasing from friends but he really likes that girl. With the bracelet strapped to his ankle he has no chance to be with her.  Or of getting past her father. He makes an impulsive decision to cut the strap and utters a vow under his breath that he doesn’t care what happens.

Nothing does happen. The credit card on file for his GPS bracelet is cancelled. Six months later the state noll prosses his case. No one ever asks him for the bracelet.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

The defendant has lived in the city for his entire life. He is charged with a non violent crime. In theory, of course, he is innocent until proven guilty. But he scores out as an unacceptable risk on the test they gave him at the jail. He doesn’t understand the test. Neither do the jailers who administer it. His number is too high. Maybe it is because of his past convictions. He has a history. He may be presumed innocent on this case but his high score gets him pretrial detention. There is no money bail to assure his appearance. His risk assessment score seals his fate. He sits in jail.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

Of course some money judges refuse to play along. They refuse to release accused defendants simply on empty promises to appear. They want someone to be held accountable. Absent the use of effective real secured money bail, they allow the defendant’s family to put up a refundable (mostly) 10% with the balance of the bail bond due as a punishment if the defendant fails to appear as required.

Mom pays $500 to the jail to get her son released. She signs her son’s bond guaranteeing to pay the $5,000.00 bond if her son fails to appear.

When her son fails to appear the judge issues a warrant for his arrest and forfeits his bail in the amount of $5,000.00. But no one ever makes any real effort to collect the forfeited bail amount from Mom.

Years later, intrepid journalists inquire why the Court never collected millions of dollars in forfeited bail. After countless blue ribbon panels and studies and endless discussions, the State concludes that the best course of action regarding the millions in uncollected bail forfeitures is to write it off as uncollectible.

Mom can’t afford it, they reason, and it would be a hardship if the State pushed her to pay her obligation. Besides, it can’t be easy having a son who is a fugitive. Actually, if you check the record, it is even worse than that. The poor woman has four children.

It turns out that they are all fugitives.

What makes a bail bond “good”?

The grizzled veterans who have been around a while will say that a stamped certificate of discharge from the Clerk of the Court is the only thing that makes a bail bond good. There is some obvious truth to this. When the obligation on the bail bond has been satisfied with no failure to appear by the defendant it’s a unquestionably a “good” bond. Of course this status is being established after the fact.

Certificate of DischargeHow do we make a bail bond good?

We recently posted a very large bond. During the process of putting it together I was reminded of something that the late Barry Hodus used to say. Hodus was a legendary bondsman and quite a character in South Florida courtrooms. Hodus would often bellow, “If they had all of the premium and they had all of the collateral, what would they need me for?”

His point is well taken. Anyone can assess that a bail bond is “good” if the parties have the entire premium due and full collateral. What Barry Hodus meant is that it takes a real bondsman to assess the risk and determine how to make the bond good, in the absence of being fully covered against a possible financial loss. Hodus could look each of the potential indemnitors in the eye and quickly figure out what it would take from them each in order to make it work.

On our recent large bond, there was no way we were ever going to have sufficient collateral to cover the entire bond amount. The family simply didn’t have it. As is often the case, the client is not so much of a criminal, per se. However, he definitely has a capacity for spectacular idiocy, almost certainly aided by large quantities of alcohol. He has a loving family, willing to go to bat for him. How much, depends on the bondsman and whether or not the bondsman does his job.

Mom says she will help but her boyfriend is not her son’s father and so won’t put his house up as bond collateral. The bondsman says, “Well then, good luck and if you ever decide you do need me, please give me a call.”

“Wait! You won’t help?”

“If your boyfriend knows your son and knows you and won’t risk his house, how stupid would I have to be to risk mine when I don’t even know your son?”

A real bondsman professionally explains that he needs everyone in the family fully on board and “all in” in order to assist their loved one.

“Do you know the only person in the world who could put your boyfriend’s house at risk?”

“My son?”

“That’s correct. As long as your son goes to court as required — as long as he refrains from actually becoming a fugitive — your property is safe. You have no existing obligation or debt. You only have a problem if your own son flees. If you are not completely comfortable that he will appear as required, then you shouldn’t proceed. And neither should I.”

A real bondsman will secure everything that they have, even though the dollar value may be far less than the bond amount. A real bondsman is not timid or worried about the competition. Barry Hodus had no competition. And a real bondsman is straight, often to the point of bluntness, with his client.

“The properties that your families put up do not have enough value to cover your bond.  But if you flee and become a fugitive, I will sell the properties in order to fund your capture. They will lose their homes and you will be caught. But of course that won’t happen because you’ll go to court as required in order to resolve your case.”

“And make sure you thank each person in your family. They put everything on the line for you.”

By bringing everyone on board on the large bond we wrote, we made a day’s pay and we made the bond as good as we possibly could.

Years ago, a timid bail agent (worried about the competition) decided not to ask the defendant’s mother to put up her house. She would have likely done so if the agent had asked her for it and carefully explained to her what it meant. But the agent didn’t ask. The only collateral security that the agent took on the bond was an Indemnity Agreement signed by mom.

When the defendant failed to appear in court and the bail bond was ordered forfeited, the bail agent called his mother.

“But Ma’am, you are financially liable for the $15,000.00 bond forfeiture. You need to tell me where your son is?”

“Son, I am 85-years-old. My son is a full grown man. If you have a problem with him, please deal with him and not with me.” 

“But Ma’am, you are responsible. We could sue you for the bond amount because of what you signed.”

To which she laughed and laughed and said, “What, you are going to ruin my credit? I really don’t care what you do. Do what you need to do. Have a nice day!”

If the bail agent had been a real bondsman and secured the mother’s modest home as collateral, the conversation following her son’s failure to appear would have surely been very different.

“Yes, sir. Would you like me to bring my son by your office or should I bring him to the jail to meet you?”

And what of our recent large bond? Is it a good bond?

I’ll let you know if the stamped certificate of discharge shows up.