A compassionate bail bond agent helps bring about positive change to her local jail’s release policy

I love everything about this story that aired last week on KATV news in Arkansas.

First, a disclaimer: this bail bond agent, Carmen Moore, does not work with or for me and we have never met. That said, based upon the news story, I am a fan. Carmen Moore’s actions make me proud to be a bondsman.

Bondsman Carmen Moore

Bondsman Carmen Moore

Moore works for Buddy York Bail Bonds in White County, Arkansas and she spoke out publicly against her local jail’s release policies and practices. This takes courage. Sometimes it’s a safer and easier course to stay silent about issues that don’t involve us directly. This is especially true if it potentially affects our pocket book as is certainly the case here. Many bail agents are understandably hesitant to criticize a jail publicly, knowing that release officers and deputies at the jail have the potential to make a bondsman’s professional life horrible.

Carmen Moore spoke out, regardless of the potentially adverse consequences to her in doing so.

The first thing I love about this story is that bail agent Carmen Moore stated that she “just happened to be in her office” at 2:30am. It is not uncommon for us bail agents to “just happen to be” in our offices at 2:30am. If an employee of a publicly-funded pretrial release program just happened to be in his government office at 2:30am it would be to steal the office’s flat screen TV.

So Carmen “just happened to be in her office” at 2:30am when her bail bond office’s door bell rings and it’s two guys, freshly released from the White County Detention Center across the street. Carmen did not stay silent. Instead, she spoke out, at first on her Facebook page, posting the following:

“I am so frustrated, it boggles my mind how a facility can be so cruel and inhumane. It’s 2:30 in the morning, I’m at my office working, when my door bell rings, it’s 2 guys who were just released from jail, WITHOUT even a phone call.. . This happens every day!!!! One of the guys is from West Memphis, who just spent 30 day for a failure to pay on a ticket from 2004. He has on a short sleeve shirt, sweat pants and NO freakin’ shoes, and it’s freakin’ cold outside. The inmates are not notified when they will be released, they are only told it can be at anytime after midnight. so they can’t make arrangements to be picked up. This happens every freaking day. About a month ago a lady was release right after midnight, lucky for her I was at my office she had been jail for 90 days, she was in shorts, a tank top and again No Shoes, she lived in Beebe, this was during one of our coldest days. I made her some coffee, gave her a pair of my shoes I had at the office, let her use the phone and stay in my office until she got a ride back to Beebe. The closest gas station that is OPEN at this time is about a mile away. What the heck is wrong with our world…. Losing faith in people!!”

Carmen Moore did more than publicly rant. She took the time and effort to listen and learn about the poor guy who appeared at her bail bond office’s door. She found out that he is a 52-year-old disabled Vet, who served our country during Desert Storm. She found out he was unable to reach his mother, who is suffering from cancer. Carmen Moore got him coffee, breakfast, shoes and arranged to get him a ride home to West Memphis. She cared.

It is important to note that this gentleman was at no time eligible for a bail bond. He served a 30-day sentence, evidently as a result of not paying a very small fine from 2004. When he was released from the jail at 2:30 am, it was without any advance warning or notice. He was released from the jail without shoes, without a jacket and without the opportunity to make a phone call. It was 29 degrees outside. Carmen Moore thought this was wrong and she did something about it.

Following her posts on social media, Carmen attracted the attention of TV news station KATV and they published the story, calling into question the White County Detention Center’s release policies.

Here’s my favorite quote from the interview:

 “I understand people have done some crimes and it is not supposed to be a hotel. They are also living, breathing human beings. Dignity you know?”

The good news is that following Carmen’s actions, the Sheriff’s Department properly addressed this issue. They no longer release inmates in the middle of the night without a phone call and a ride or other appropriate and safe arrangements being made. Obviously, this does not apply to defendants who are bonded out and have friends and family waiting with the bail agent.

Carmen reminds us that as bail agents we really are in an amazing position to help so many people. There are resources and services available to people in need. As bail agents we are often uniquely qualified to assist. Carmen reminds us that being a good bail agent and being a compassionate human being is never incompatible.

Thank you, Carmen Moore for your own compassion and efforts and for bringing some dignity to our profession.

Having your cake and eating it, too.

The literal meaning of this shopworn expression is that you cannot both retain your cake and yet still eat it, too. If you eat the cake, it’s gone. You cannot have two incompatible things. The meaning of “having your cake and eating it, too” is similar to saying, “you can’t have it both ways.”

Yet more and more often lately, that’s precisely what the state seeks in bail bond forfeiture matters. The purpose of a bail bond posted by a surety bail agent is to have the defendant appear as required in court. If the defendant becomes a fugitive and fails to appear, the bail agent must locate, apprehend and surrender the fugitive defendant back to the jurisdiction. Failing that, the bail agent must pay a substantial penalty to the state — the full penal amount of the bond forfeiture. So the bail agent either produces the body in court, or pays the penalty for failing to do so. It sounds simple, correct?

The state wants to eat your cake, and have it, too.

The state wants to eat your cake, and have it, too.

But what happens when the state doesn’t want the body? Common sense would tell you that if the state doesn’t want the fugitive, then the bail agent should not have to pay a penalty for failing to deliver. More and more often though, this is precisely what is happening. The state determines that it doesn’t want the fugitive yet still pursues the collection of the penalty from the bail agent. The state wants two incompatible things. Actually, they want one thing: revenue. But revenue to the state has never been the purpose of a bail bond. The purpose of the bail bond is to ensure the appearance in court of the accused.

Laws governing bail vary greatly from state to state. In some jurisdictions a bail agent is prohibited from lawfully apprehending his or her fugitive. For example, if I write a bail bond returnable to Miami-Dade County, Florida and the accused flees to Kentucky, it is illegal for me to enter Kentucky and apprehend him. The only lawful way for me to fulfill my obligation in this case would be to have Kentucky law enforcement take the fugitive into their custody on the Florida warrant and to extradite the fugitive back to the jurisdiction of Miami-Dade County. I would then be liable to the state for the costs incurred by them in transporting my bond principal back to Miami-Dade, Florida.

All-too-often, though, in cases such as this, the state refuses to seek nationwide extradition of the defendant — even though the bail agent is on the hook for the costs of transportation. The warrant will specify that it is for Florida only or otherwise geographically limited. The reality is that the state often in actuality does not want to prosecute or deal with the defendant, but they do want the proceeds of the bond forfeiture. They want to eat your cake.

To help remedy this situation in Florida, the Florida Bail Agents Association is seeking to pass HB 731. The complete text of the proposed legislation is here. The pertinent language in the proposed bill reads as follows:

(d) A determination that the state is unwilling to seek nationwide extradition of the fugitive defendant within 10 days after a request by the surety to do so, and contingent upon the surety agent’s consent to pay all transportation costs incurred by an official in returning the defendant to the jurisdiction of the court, up to the penal amount of the bond.

If you are a Florida bail agent you should join the Florida Bail Agents Association and support these efforts. Don’t sit on the sidelines while the state tries to change your bond into a revenue stream. Don’t allow the state to eat your cake for breakfast.

A frog is a wonderful bird — except for the flying part

The Miami Dolphins ended another season, absent once again from the playoffs. They have been mired in mediocrity-at-best for a decade. But team owner Steven Ross, following a meaningless victory over the Patriots, has an interesting perspective. He told the assembled locker-room press that other than the actual winning football games part, the Dolphins are doing great.

“From every aspect except on the playing field we’re probably the first class organization in the National Football League”

I never thought about it this way before. If we judge the Dolphins based upon their cheerleaders or trainers, or landscapers, or things other than actually winning football games, then heck, maybe they are champions after all. Someone should let their legions of perpetually heartbroken fans know about this.

This sort of outlook sheds new light on the possibility that publicly funded pretrial release programs really are effective and worthwhile. They do many things well; except for the part about having defendants who are released pretrial actually show up for court.

For instance, these programs employ bunches of additional government workers and we all know what a great thing that is. Some of these pretrial release programs collect hundreds of gallons of urine from compliant (and presumed innocent) accused criminals. Some install electronic bracelets which helps the bracelet manufacturers and the paid electronic “monitors” who can track compliant defendants. (Non-compliant clients simply cut the bracelet off or fail to appear for the first appointment to have it put on.) These programs send out court notices to those accused criminals who are thoughtful enough to provide them with accurate addresses. They answer the phones during office hours except during lunch breaks, work breaks or paid government holidays. They have a lot of file cabinets, computers, coffee breaks, and government employee benefits.

For every aspect except actually being held accountable for the appearance of the defendant, these taxpayer funded pretrial release programs are first class organizations.

In my state of Florida, the statutes read that the terms “bail” and “bond” include any and all forms of pretrial release. So when an accused criminal is released pretrial — as most are and should be — they are released on bail. The only relevant questions are: who pays for that bail and is it truly a secured release or a figment of everyone’s imagination? Will someone actually be held accountable for the defendant’s appearance at trial?

The woman who supervises the Manatee County, Florida’s taxpayer funded “conditional release program” said, “The County does not ever post bond for anyone. That is the purpose of our program.”

For every aspect except the part about knowing what she actually does for a living, she is a winner! She goes on to say, “How are we to be held accountable for them attending court? Short of watching clients 24 hours per day, that is not possible. The bondsman don’t do that either.”

For every aspect except truthfulness, that’s a great statement!  Of course bondsman actually are held accountable. By tying up friends and family of the accused and by risking their own money, bail bond agents are indeed accountable for their defendants’ appearance in court. When their defendants fail to appear, the bail agents — on their own dime — locate, apprehend and surrender them back to the jurisdiction of the court. Failing that, they pay a substantial penalty to the government. When defendants are released pretrial on a taxpayer funded bail and subsequently fail to appear, we get another open felony warrant entered into the system.

And probably a government requisition form for some new office plants and urine cups.

A New Year’s Poem.

There are worse ways to spend 59-seconds than by watching this video of Tom Waits reading “The Laughing Heart” by Charles Bukowski. Happy New Years to you and yours!

The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

Tom Waits is an American singer-song songwriter and actor.  Charles Bukowski was an American author of poems, novels, short stories, and letters.