A few moments with bail bondsman Marco Polo Vital on being in the appearance business

Advocates of publicly funded pretrial release programs would have us believe that defendants who are released from jail pretrial simply need a friendly reminder of their court dates. In total disregard of the truth, they continue to tell gullible policymakers, politicians and judges that accused criminals can be trusted to appear in court as required. They argue that secured, private bail in which a bail agent is held accountable for the defendant’s appearance can be replaced with an expensive, ineffective government program that sends out court date notices.

Private bail agents, such as Marco Polo Vital, know that this is bunk. Vital has been a bondsman for 9-years in Broward County, Florida. He writes bail in Miami-Dade as well as Fort Lauderdale.

“Some you have to call; some are knuckleheads.”

Gainesville bail bondsman tracks down his fugitive to a remote pot farm on the other side of the country.

Score one for the good guys. There was an outstanding story published last week in the Gainesville Sun. Hats off to reporter Morgan Watkins for writing a great article about Gainesville bail agent Richard Roundtree and his successful efforts to return a fugitive to justice.

Richard Roundtree is a second-generation bondsman, who owns the bail agency that his father founded in 1956. Roundtree was born in Gainesville, Florida and has been writing bail there since 1978.

Bondsman Richard Roundtree

Bail Bond Agent Richard Roundtree

The Gainesville Sun article highlights some very important concepts. Secured private bail is not about releasing defendants from jail but rather it is an obligation to produce the defendant in court. Bail agent Richard Roundtree posted a $150,000.00 bail bond to secure the appearance of Darren Enoch Duck to face charges of trafficking in Ecstacy.

When Duck absconded, bondsman Roundtree had to locate, apprehend and surrender him back to the custody of the Alachua County Sheriff within 60-days of his failure to appear in court. Since Roundtree was unable to accomplish that in order to fulfill his obligation on the bond, Roundtree paid a substantial penalty — the entire $150,000 face amount of the forfeited bail bond. As the article points out, Roundtree had to use his retirement savings to help pay for the forfeited bond.

At this point, it is a safe bet that Roundtree was more motivated than any person on the planet to bring back Darren Enoch Duck to face justice. Alachua County, Florida has many outstanding deputies and police officers but it is unlikely that any lost sleep over Duck’s whereabouts. “I lost a lot of sleep over this one,” said Roundtree.

Private secured bail is so effective for precisely the reasons highlighted in this case. Roundtree had a very strong vested financial interest in bringing his fugitive back. He spent untold hours and over $36,000 of his own hard-earned money on this case. He eventually enlisted the services of fellow Florida bail agent Rolando Betancourt to help track down this fugitive. Betancourt, who has traveled all across the world to return bail skips, spent 46 days on the road tracking Duck. Betancourt ultimately succeeded in locating Duck and causing his arrest in California.

The Alachua County Sheriff sent deputies to California to retrieve Duck and return him in their custody to Gainesville, Florida for prosecution. Guess who reimbursed the Sheriff for the cost of this trip?  Bail agent Roundtree paid $2,277 to reimburse the Sheriff for their costs incurred in bringing Duck back. His obligation was to have the defendant appear in court in Gainesville, Florida. Roundtree did his job.

Not a dead duck but a captured Duck

Not a dead duck but a captured Duck

Articles like this one are uncommon, but the practices outlined take place every day. Bail agents guarantee the appearance in court of their defendants.  Most of the time, bail agents are able to have their clients in court as required. When a client fails to appear, the bail agent locates, apprehends and surrenders them back to the jail. If they are unable to accomplish this in time — as was the case with bail agent Roundtree — they pay the state a substantial penalty. Since Florida allows bail agents to recover some of their forfeited bail money for up to two years, bail agents continue to look for and capture fugitives.

Take a wild guess who is going to pay for New Jersey “bail reform”?

New Jersey governor “Chris” Christie makes a lot of noise about reining in government spending. But at least when it comes to “bail reform,” he is spectacularly hypocritical.

When he wasn’t bullying his opponents, Christie trudged throughout New Jersey touting his reforms. His message was simple: Lock up the bad violent criminals, even if they haven’t been convicted of anything yet. Oh, and while you are at it, just let all of the other criminals whom we think are non-violent out without having to post bail. This way, poor harmless defendants won’t have to languish in jail indefinitely. Every bondsman knows the fallacy of this poppycock. What Christie neglected to mention to voters is that he’d rather have accused criminals languish in his pal’s private halfway houses or “rehab” programs.

The “lock-up-the-scary-guys” rhetoric must have been convincing because New Jersey voters found it palatable enough to approve a Constitutional amendment, sanctioning Christie’s scheme.

New Jersey Governor Christie, hypocrite extrordinaire

New Jersey Governor Christie, hypocrite extrordinaire

This “bail reform” bill-of-goods is slated to start in 2016 and be fully implemented in 2017. Morris County now projects that will cost $5 million to pay for this unfunded mandate. New Jersey has twenty other counties

“From a policy standpoint, we think bail reform is going to work.  The cash bail system is antiquated and unfair,” said John Donnadio, executive director of the Association of Counties. But, he said, the dilemma is how counties will pay for it.

I know how they will pay for it. The taxpayers of New Jersey will get hosed. They will foot the entire bill for a plan that is destined to fail. Cops in New Jersey who arrest suspects will be encouraged to let many of them go, after simply issuing a summons to appear. Picture how this actually works. First, a police officer has probable cause to believe that a crime has occurred. Then, he or she arrests the suspect and reads them their rights. A “Live Scan Fingerprinting” machine instantly checks for holds and warrants. Finding none, the police officer uncuffs the probable criminal and says go forth and please don’t forget to appear in court for trial. What could possibly go wrong with that?

Those accused criminals who do manage to make it to jail will go through a “risk assessment process” rather than having to post private secured bail.  The pretrial release program will release accused criminals who score out as a “low” or “moderate” risk. Don’t worry about mistakenly letting out poor risks to appear; the government pretrial release program will employ a special algorithm tool that analyzes the defendant’s background check. Seriously.  It’s astounding that anyone with a brain buys into this. But the taxpayers of New Jersey are about to – to the tune of millions and millions of dollars.

And what of these poor defendants who no longer have to stay in jail because they supposedly cannot afford to pay a private bail agent to post bond? Those who score out as “low” or “moderate” on the magic algorithm tool will be released for “free” after meeting with newly hired government Pretrial Services employees. After they score out to be released for “free” so they don’t have to languish in jail on account of being poor, they will be charged for frequent urine tests and electronic monitoring and weekly check-ins with the government employees.

Many of these accused criminals will decide that this is more trouble and expense than it’s worth and determine that they cannot afford the costs of their “free” release. They will fail to appear in court. Warrants will be issued but no one will look for them, especially not the newly minted Pretrial Release program employees. That’s not their job, they will say. Someone from the government might tinker with the magic algorithm tool at some point, but no one will be held accountable for the non-appearance of defendants released pretrial.

It’s a safe bet that New Jersey Governor and now presidential candidate “Chris” Christie doesn’t want voters to know the real story: That he wants to replace secured bail bonds — a private enterprise that works — with a bloated, ineffective government program that is destined to fail spectacularly.

A moment with bail bond agent Jackie Parker — he’s in the appearance business

Advocates of publicly funded pretrial release programs would have us believe that defendants who are released from jail pretrial simply need a friendly reminder of their court dates. In total disregard of the truth, they continue to tell gullible policymakers, politicians and judges that accused criminals can be trusted to appear in court as required. They argue that secured, private bail in which a bail agent is held accountable for the defendants’s appearance can be replaced with a government program that sends out court date notices.

Private bail agents, such as Jackie Parker, know that this is bunk. Parker has been a bondsman for 20-years in Greenville, North Carolina.

 

Newspeak: We no longer jail criminals, we “warehouse” people.

Obviously we may have some bad blood on display in this video, but the narrative is noteworthy. This public defender is evidently upset that the judge had the nerve to set a whopping $1,000 bail bond to secure the release and guarantee the appearance of his homeless client. The public defender disrespectfully mouths off to the judge that by requiring a bail bond he is causing this poor defendant to be warehoused.

What utter poppycock.

This man is not in jail because he is poor. He is not in jail because he is homeless. He is in jail because there is probable cause to believe that he broke the law. This public defender would have the judge believe that because he is poor, he will have to be “warehoused.” The judge knows better.

Let’s look at the facts. Assume that this poor defendant does not have access to $1,000. So, in order to secure his release from jail he needs to retain the services of a bail bond agent. In Broward County, Florida a licensed bail agent charges $150 to post a $1,000 bond. There are many, many hungry bail bond agents in Broward County, each eager to make a living and serve the public and the courts. Many of these bail agents would happily post this $1,000 bail bond in exchange for $150 and at least one stable, credit worthy, resident of Broward County who is willing to come forward and vouch for this guy and guarantee that he will appear in court. Many bail agents in Broward County, Florida will even allow family members or friends of the defendant to make payments towards the $150 if the bond is good.

What makes the bail bond good? One thing only: the defendant’s appearance in court at the proceeding for which the bond was written. How can a bail agent be confident that a defendant will appear? Usually by requiring that friends and family members of the defendant come forward and vouch for him. Typically, on a thousand dollar bond the bail agent would require only that family members sign to guarantee that they can have their relative appear in court. They don’t pay anything other than the $150, which, again, they can often make in installments. They simply agree to reimburse the bail agent the amount of the bail bond he posted — in this case, $1,000 — if the defendant flees and cannot be located by the bail agent.

So what happens when a defendant is charged with a crime and no one — not a single person in the world — is willing to vouch for him? What happens when his family members no longer trust him and he doesn’t have a single stable friend, employer, co-corker or even a trustworthy acquaintance? Probably, in such tragic cases there is nothing that can reasonably assure his appearance in court other than keeping him in jail. Homelessness, alcoholism and drug addiction are all big problems, often intertwined. But make no mistake, this poor man is not in jail because he is homeless. He is jail because he is charged with committing a crime and no one in his life thinks that he is a good bet to appear in court to face justice on the criminal charges filed against him.

There are alternatives. We could just give homeless people a pass — simply exempt them from being charged with a crime so that they don’t become “warehoused.” Or we could cite them instead of arresting them for a crime — which some cities are now doing more and more. Of course, when he fails to appear for his court case, a warrant is issued for  his arrest.

Advocates of publicly funded pretrial release programs would have us believe that poor, innocent people are languishing in jail — warehoused — simply due to their inability to post bail. Don’t you believe it. A bail bond agent is standing by ready to serve. He or she needs only a family member, friend, co-worker, employer, or trustworthy acquaintance who is willing to assist. That’s how bail works, and why bail works. The friends and family of the defendant and the bail agent have a vested financial interest in the appearance of the accused.

Was Chicago cop actually released on a $1.5 million bond?

It’s been widely reported that the Chicago police officer who is facing a first-degree murder charge for shooting a teen 16 times posted bail and was released on a $1.5 million bond. I am not so sure that this is an accurate thing to say.

What happens if Van Dyke flees?

What happens if Van Dyke flees?

By way of background, Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with the October 20, 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald. The dashcam video that shows the teen being shot is damning evidence. Even Van Dyke’s own defense attorney concedes: “When you see the video alone, it does not seem like a justifiable shooting.” But of course, in America everyone is presumed to be innocent.

At Van Dyke’s bond hearing, which was held earlier this week, Judge Donald Panarese Jr.watched the dashcam video and listened to testimony that Van Dyke is no threat to the public safety and should therefore be given a bond. According to news reports, the Judge set bail in the amount of $1.5 million dollars. A few hours after the bail hearing, friends and family of the accused cop posted the bond and Van Dyke was released from the Cook County jail.

I know what it means when I post a $1.5 million dollar bond to guarantee a defendant’s appearance. I am much less sure what it means when Van Dyke posted his $1.5 million dollar bond. Illinois is one of a very small number of states that do not allow commercial bail bonds. What thousands of licensed and well-regulated bondsman across the United States, including myself, do for a living is not allowed in Chicago. So how do they manage bail in Chicago? As best I can tell, and as was reported, friends, family members and fellow police officers brought $150,000 (10% of the bail amount set by the judge) in cash to the jail. Instead of private bondsmen, the Cook County Sherriff’s Department of Corrections provides their own bonding facility controlled by the Clerk of Cook County to accommodate family members of incarcerated detainees to post bond on site from 9:00AM to 8:30PM.

You can go there in person during their business hours (as Van Dyke’s friends and fellow officers presumably did to post his bail) but evidently you cannot get them to answer their telephone. For the past week I have been calling the Cook County Bonding Facility at (773) 674- 2276. When you dutifully follow the prompts to obtain bonding information they play a recording for 15 or 20 minutes and then hang up on you. It happens every time. (I am embarrassed to tell you how many times I tried this.) So I cannot say with complete certainty how bail works in Chicago because I cannot even get them to answer the phone. But I have a pretty good guess how they do it.

What, exactly, does Van Dyke’s $1.5 million dollar bond mean? What happens if Jason Van Dyke fails to appear for trial (the primary purpose of his bail) and becomes a fugitive? My theory is that in the event of this occurring, the judge will issue a warrant for Van Dyke’s arrest and also forfeit his bond.

When a private bail bondman writes a bail bond for $1.5 million — in Florida, for example — he or she has 60 days in which to locate, apprehend and surrender the fugitive back to jail. (In other states the time-frame may be different but the obligation remains the same.) If they fail in that obligation, they pay the entire forfeited bail amount of $1.5 million to the State. The entire amount (here in Florida at least) being provided as security for the bail is guaranteed by a solvent and well-regulated insurance company. The State is absolutely assured that they will get either the fugitive or the entire cash amount of the forfeited bail bond as a penalty for not getting the fugitive. Period. The bondsman has a strong and very real economic incentive to make sure that the defendant appears.

What of Chicago? In all likelihood, if Van Dyke absconds and his bond is forfeited, his family and fellow officers will likely get a bill for $1.5 million from the Cook County Clerk. Do you think they will pay it? My guess is that Cook County collects forfeited bonds about as effectively as they answer the telephone at their Bonding Facility. When government agencies attempt to run publicly-funded bail programs, historically they usually do virtually nothing to collect on forfeited bail money.

Who will chase Van Dyke if he flees? Is it realistic for anyone to think that his friends, family and fellow police officers will go after him if he becomes a fugitive? These are, after all, probably the same folks that would be suspected of helping him to abscond in the first place. And does anyone really believe that these fellow police officers would be willing and/or able to pay the $1.5 million forfeited bond amount?

For decades the City of Philadelphia ran a similar public bail racket. “Bail judgments just aren’t paid off unless something miraculous happens,” said David D. Wasson, chief deputy court administrator. Philadelphia wrote off over a billion dollars as noncollectable. I would ask Cook County how much they wrote off in forfeited bail if someone would ever answered their telephone.

The press is making a serious mistake when they without thinking repeat that Van Dyke posted a $1.5 million bond. His bond is a mockery of the bail system. What actually occurred is that friends and family of the accused murderer paid $150,000.00 to get Jason Van Dyke out of the Cook County jail. That’s a far cry from a real bondsman actually posting $1.5 million in real money to secure and guarantee his appearance.

 

Electronic GPS tethers may reduce jail populations but the other promises — like public safety, reducing jail costs and guaranteeing appearance for trial — are a figment of everyone’s imagination.

 

Isn’t the idea of this technology appealing? Instead of incarcerating people just make them wear a GPS bracelet and “monitor” them around-the-clock. In Wayne County, Michigan, they claim savings of over $20 million annually through this type of program. It’s such a simple concept: just let folks out of jail and put electronic tethers on them instead. You can tether and release rapists, armed robbers, even murderers. Watch the savings mount. It sounds like a good deal, huh? Except the whole hare-brained scheme tends to be a figment of everyone’s imagination.

Ankle-monitorThere is a very good article about the use of these devices here.

First, let’s look at these so-called “savings”. Twenty-million dollars annually is a bunch of jail-issued baloney sandwiches. Where exactly are these savings coming from? Here is how they come up with these fantasy savings of over $20 million annually. On any given day Wayne County lets about 500 accused criminals stay out of jail and instead freely roam about with GPS tethers. As a starting place, Wayne County takes their total jail budget and divides it by the total number of inmates they house in order to come up with a “cost per day” of incarceration. So, they will then claim that it costs, for example, $125 per day to house an inmate. Therefore, according to this twisted logic, upon releasing 500 criminals from jail they can then claim that they are “saving” $62,500 per day. This is where they get their preposterous figure of over $20 million in annual savings.  There is a problem with this claim, however. When they release 500 accused criminals, do they then lay-off any deputies? Do they reduce pensions? Close a wing of the jail? They claim “savings” of over $20 million, but how much does the Sheriff’s budget get reduced? You better believe that it doesn’t. The sheriff’s budget — you guessed it — goes up. So the savings are an illusion.

By the way, it’s only fair to give private bail agents the benefit of the same ridiculous narrative. In such case, when using the same “logic,” every defendant out on private bail also “saves” the county $125 per day — without the costs to the county associated with running a GPS tracking program.

Second, let’s look at public safety and supervision. It’s a safe bet that an accused armed robber in jail will not endanger the public. When we tether him up and let him go, what then? If you think the bracelet on his ankle will protect the public safety, then you are a special type of gullible. In fact, many of these idiots wearing bracelets are later convicted of new crimes because the tether actually proves that they were present at the scene of the crime. A quick Google search reveals that some of these brain surgeons actually rob banks while being “monitored” with a GPS bracelet.  A dirt-bag criminal named Demetrius Edwards was wearing a tether when he murdered Cedell Leverett. His GPS tether flawlessly confirmed his location at the time and scene of the murder.

“A New Orleans program came under fire last year when two 16-year-olds wearing tethers were charged with murdering a Domino’s Pizza delivery driver in an attempted carjacking. A New Orleans inspector general’s report found significant weaknesses in the program including a failure to detail violations, unclear procedures to deal with violations and alerts that were ignored.”

Speaking of being “monitored,” here is the biggest illusion of them all. As a general rule, these GPS units do an excellent job of providing the exact location and time when the bracelet is cut off.  The criminal gets to decide when he would like to no longer be “monitored.” All he needs to do is cut off the tether. It’s true that in theory an alert will occur and if everyone then does their job correctly (a huge “if” here — many times it is weeks before any action on a tamper violation is taken), law enforcement will spring into action and often times be able to successfully retrieve the cut bracelet.  As for the fugitive? Well, they will likely ask the judge to issue a warrant for the fugitive’s arrest and hope for the best. He will undoubtedly be more difficult to locate than the cut bracelet is.

According to the article, this is how these accused felons are actually being monitored:

“A 2013 audit by the Los Angeles County Probation Department found that one in four tethers strapped to serious criminals in the county was faulty. The report cited dying batteries, false alarms and malfunctions that resulted in a failure to report locations of inmates for extended periods.”

Orange County, Fla., suspended its tether program in 2013 after a man wearing a tether while awaiting trial for a home invasion shot and killed a witness in the case and wounded two other people. A review showed the man cut off his device. The county agreed to pay $100,000 to each of the families of the three shooting victims.”

The article goes on to cite Chief Judge Fred Lauten of Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit: “When electronic monitoring was presented to us, it sounded like a great idea.  It sounded high-tech and it was like, ‘wow, we can sort of track people.’ It really sounded good.”

Obviously, the good judge became disabused of the notion that GPS bracelets could somehow prevent violent crimes. “Somehow, in the public’s perception, electronic monitoring became more than it ever really was,” he said.

So in summary:

  • The GPS tethers do not prevent crime
  • They do not protect the public
  • They do not ensure that defendants actually comply with their release conditions
  • They do not ensure or guarantee a defendant’s appearance in court
  • They do not even save jail costs
  • They do reduce jail populations

These gizmos might have some use: if you can’t find the fugitive, maybe you can locate his pet cat.

It would be cheaper and just as (in)effective to do away completely with the pretense of these programs; Simply let these violent criminals out of jail upon a promise to behave and appear in court  when required.

Or, of course, if you are legitimately concerned with reducing jail costs, protecting the public safety and ensuring appearance in court, you can require that the friends and family of the accused post a secured bail bond.

Then let a bondsman do his or her job, at no cost to the taxpayers.