Bail

The end of commercial bail in Florida?

Our demise will never be about the actual work that we do. Florida bail agents invariably produce our defendants in court or we pay a substantial penalty. We play a crucial role in the criminal justice system. Our profession serves the best interests of the citizens

Florida Bail Agents Association

and the courts of Florida. Our end will never be about our actual merits. We do our job well and always have.

Instead, it will be about our apathy, oversized egos, and purposeful ignorance.  We’ve been told time and time again to get political or get out of bail. We are not listening.

Many good men and woman who were recently employed in bail in New Jersey are unemployed today. The citizens of New Jersey are worse for it. California bail agents are on the brink of likewise being eliminated by lawmakers. Our profession is being threatened in jurisdictions across the country. It is monumentally naïve to assume that Florida is exempt.

There exists among far too many of us a profound misunderstanding about the nature of our national and state associations. The Professional Bail Agents of the United States (PBUS) and the Florida Bail Agents Association (FBAA) are not “them.” They are “us.”  They will not rescue us. Only we will rescue us.

Sadly, most of us in this profession are not paid members of the PBUS or FBAA. We do not donate our time, experience, money and resources in order to protect and preserve our very own livelihood. Yet we are quick to criticize “them” for not acting or for taking the wrong action. There is no “them,” only us.

Professional Bail Agents of the United States

The current presidents of the PBUS and the FBAA are first and foremost bail agents. They are “us.” They have each spent a tremendous amount of their own time, money and effort to protect private, secured bail. They are serving “us”. What are we doing to serve ourselves?

The surety companies will not save us. “They” will not save us. The only one who can save us is us.

We can continue with our public squabbling, oversized egos, divisiveness and willful ignorance while we wait for the end. Or, working together we can accomplish great things.

I hope to see you next week in Orlando at the Renaissance Orlando at Sea World. The PBUS summer conference is July 16-19th. The FBAA summer Town Hall meeting is on the afternoon of Monday, July 17th. You can register on site for PBUS. Florida bail agents can attend the FBAA town hall meeting at no cost.  The PBUS is also offering one-day passes for Monday and Tuesday.

We’ll be sharing good news about recently passed legislation in Florida and the continuing failures of New Jersey’s disastrous bail reform. We have classes on new and improved tazers, a new bounty hunting certification program, updates on national developments and much, much more.

Join us. Participate in saving us. We’re worth it.

Our own money makes us accountable. Taxpayer dollars and government employees? Not so much.

Florida bail agents are required to successfully complete fourteen hours of continuing education every two years. CE courses are offered across the state of Florida by the Florida Bail Agents Association (“FBAA”). Florida bail agents have other choices besides the state association for their CE courses since there are other approved providers, including some insurance companies, who offer courses.  But when agents pay tuition to the FBAA 100% of the money goes to the association. Most of the money raised through the FBAA CE courses is used to pay the lobbyist.

Who is accountable?

Government run pretrial release: “We hope defendants appear in court but if they don’t no one is actually responsible.”

So when you take a CE course through the FBAA you not only meet the legal requirement to keep your license but also are helping to fund the association that works for the betterment of all Florida bail agents.  This is the reason why I set aside one day each month to teach CE courses for the FBAA. All of the instructors of FBAA CE courses are volunteers.

Anyhow, I recently received a telephone call from a Miami bail agent who took one of the CE courses which I had taught. He was complaining that his $100 tuition check to the FBAA hadn’t been cashed even though it had been almost a week since the course took place.  I reminded him that I was a volunteer and assured him that all of the tuition checks for the course were forwarded by me to the FBAA office on the day after the class via UPS delivery. I followed up and confirmed that his check was at the FBAA office and slated for deposit the following day.  I had a passing thought that perhaps this gentleman was being obsessively frugal or controlling. Later that day, however, I checked my personal bank account balances on line. When I couldn’t identify a $9.49 charge from Amazon, I immediately called my wife to investigate the charge. (She confirmed she had purchased something.)

The lesson I took from these too ordinary small occurrences is that we pay careful attention to our own money. Our own money matters to us. Whether the government values our money is a different matter entirely.

At the same times as these two minor transactions occurred – my $9 purchase and the bail agent’s $100 check — a news story broke that $3.6 million dollars was missing from one of Miami Beach’s bank accounts. Evidently over an unspecified period of time — likely many months — someone illegally accessed bank information online and illegally transferred money from this City of Miami Bank account. They did this over and over again until they had stolen about $3.6 million of taxpayer money from the City.

With no evidence whatsoever, the Miami Beach City Manager was quick to assert his astounding speculation that he doesn’t believe that city employees are to blame for stealing the money. At the same time, two managers in the city finance department who should have noticed all of the illegal transfers were gracious enough to resign.  The city’s chief financial officer offered to demote herself to deputy finance director. Here, however, is the quote from the City Manager that left me dumbfounded:

“I don’t think that we could have prevented this, but we should have caught it sooner. This was not just one month of activity. We probably should have caught it earlier, and I’m trying to figure out if we did something wrong and where that happened.”

If we did something wrong? A Miami bail agent has $100 too much in his checking account and it prompts him to make a call and investigate. The City loses $3.6 million in dozens of illegal bank transfers over many months and the top city official says with a straight face that it couldn’t have been prevented. We care about money. Does the government care about our money?

This is food for thought as our opponents renew their ill advised cries to eliminate what they call “money bail.” The alternative to private secured accountable bail is invariably a government funded, government run program.  One of the reasons why private secured bail works so well is because we are financially accountable for the defendant’s appearance in court. And we all value money. Money incentivizes us. Money also matters to the friends and family of the accused who agree to share in the financial accountability for having the defendant appear in court.

Where does the buck stop?

 

It’s never the tiger’s fault for acting like a tiger.

It’s foolish to become indignant or upset when people act true to their character.

This morning’s Miami Herald had a news article about a zookeeper who lost the tip of her finger to a hungry tiger. It brought back memories of a similar though far more tragic accident many years ago in which a zookeeper was killed by a lion.

It’s not the tiger’s fault.

The tragedy at the zoo was front page news. At the time I was new to the bail business. I was in the company of veteran bondsman Douglas Aabbott when we passed a newspaper rack with the lurid bold headlines.

Doug asked me, “Whose fault is it?”

I responded with something along the lines that it was a terrible tragedy and that the zoo would certainly have to conduct a thorough investigation.

Doug interrupted me.

“Is it the lion’s fault?”

I stammered a bit and then conceded that what he was saying made sense. Whatever happened at the zoo, certainly the tragic death was not the fault of the lion. The lion simply acted like a lion.

Doug pressed his point home.

“That poor sap who died has only himself to blame. He never should have put himself in a position where the lion could kill him.”

Doug’s assessment was harsh but true and contains a lesson I have carried for many years in the bail business.  Our clients never put us out of business. Rather, we put ourselves in a position where our clients can hurt us. It’s never the client / defendant who makes it a “bad” bond. We make our own beds. It is foolish to become indignant or upset that a lion acts like a lion or that a tiger acts like a tiger or that a liar lies or that a thief steals.

Where we go astray and risk getting eaten up in the bail business is when we delude ourselves about the truth.

“He wouldn’t dare lie to me.”

“Even though he failed to appear before, it’s different this time.”

The reality is that a person who routinely lies will almost invariably lie to us — especially when they need our help. Likewise with someone who has a history of failures to appear for court. When dealing with such a client I have to ask myself, “What makes me so special?” It is not uncommon in the bail business for us to deal with unscrupulous people. Most of the bonds I regret weren’t about the client lying to me but rather me lying to myself by denying or refusing to acknowledge the truth. People act true to their character.

It’s the lies we tell ourselves and not the lies of our clients that lead to disaster. In the past I have taken car titles as collateral security for the posting of a bail bond. If my clients think that they are putting up their car, wonderful. If I lie to myself that I am holding anything more than an easily replaceable piece of paper, then I am headed for trouble.

We are in the business of risk. That said, the bail agents I most respect never allow a single defendant to be in a position to wipe them out. They do not put themselves in that position. A good question to ask ourselves is, “In a worst case scenario on this bond, what happens?” If the answer is that I am out of business and lose my livelihood, it’s time to explore alternatives.

The same lessons apply to insurance companies who underwrite bail. In my experience you can spend half a day in any jurisdiction in the United States and easily discover who the bad bail agents are. Amazingly, some insurance companies — obviously motivated by greed — will regularly give contracts to these bad actors and later cry about their losses. If a bail agent burns an insurance company by not properly reporting bond powers or handling forfeitures, what makes the next insurance company think that their results will be different? What makes them so special?

 

A moment with bail agents Kenneth Holmes and Phil Woods

A few (two) good men equals a few hundred fewer fugitives.

The only way that the advocates of publicly funded “free” pretrial release programs can sell their poppycock to rational policymakers is by using a few whopping bold-faced lies, which they repeat over and over to anyone who will listen. Here are a few of their key lies:

  • Bail agents don’t pay when their bond principals remain fugitives;
  • Bail agents don’t have to arrest fugitives (Because after all there are police and active warrants!);
  • There is no difference in court appearance rates between defendants released pretrial on secured bail and those who are released on unsecured bail where no one is financially responsible for the defendant’s appearance.

Each of these statements are false and easily disproved but it’s hard to make their “bail reform” proposals palatable without the use of such deceits. (If they don’t lie, the pretrial release zealots are left with: “Hey, let’s replace a private business that performs effectively with a government agency that doesn’t!”)

I recently had the opportunity to spend time with Tennessee bail agents Kenneth Holmes and Phil Woods. These two young men served honorably together in the United States Marine Corps. After a tour of duty in Afghanistan, they returned home and settled in Knoxville, Tennessee. There they met a bail agent, who had also served in the US Marine Corps. The bail agent gave Kenneth and Phil an opportunity consisting of a few hundred defendant files.

In six months’ time, newly Tennessee licensed bail agents Kenneth Holmes and Phil Woods accomplished the surrender of approximately two hundred fugitives who had missed their court dates. I am proud to work in a profession with fine young men like these. These two United States Marines returned from duty in Afghanistan and now serve the courts of Tennessee by returning fugitives to justice.

The best way to promote any Bail Reform scheme that proposes to eliminate secured accountable bail: Lie and disregard the inconvenient truths.

No rational taxpayer will like the inevitable consequences of releasing all accused criminals on unsecured bail and promises to appear.

New Orleans City Councilman Susan G. Guidry introduced a Municipal Ordinance that would require the jail to release all accused criminals immediately following their booking. For those who must appear before a judge, the proposed ordinance directs the judge to release the accused on his or her own recognizance.

During a September 19, 2016 meeting of the New Orleans City Council Criminal Justice Committee, Municipal Court Judge Paul N. Sens testified and shared some of his experiences as a sitting judge. You can view the entire committee hearing here.

Councilwoman Guidry pretends to be “astounded” that bail bond agents are vehemently opposed to her ordinance. In her mind, large numbers of poor people are forced to languish in jail solely due to their inability to post a bond. Even though everyone accused of a misdemeanor in New Orleans currently sees a judge within 24-hours, Guidry wants accused criminals released immediately on unsecured bonds. Her proposed ordinance includes:

  • “The Court may not place a secured financial condition on a warrant of arrest.”
  • “No defendant may be detained because of failure to abide by a non-financial release condition due to inability to pay.”

Amazingly, this would include defendants with a history of failures to appear.

In an attempt to make her proposals palatable to voters, Councilwoman Guidry falsely claims that this will apply to non-violent misdemeanors only and have no negative impact on public safety or quality of life.  The hearing included this remarkable exchange between Councilwoman Guidry and the Honorable Judge Paul See.

JUDGE SEE: “We do have a large number of failing to appears. . . We have probably in the neighborhood of 40,000. I think the last time I checked we had over 40,000 warrants for people’s arrest for failing to appear in court.”

Councilwoman Guidry doesn’t like this testimony because it conflicts with her unfounded belief that the method of release has no impact on failures to appear in court. She counters with this stumbling attempt to state that secured bail isn’t working:

COUNCILWOMAN GUIDRY: “So obviously the bail doesn’t keep that from happening. The bond does not keep that from happening. You got 40,000 and you know if somebody is gonna not show I would assume they’re not gonna show for whatever they are out once they are out they are not gonna come back whether its that they couldn’t get out until the first hearing so you gave them first hearing and then you gave them a trial date. And they’re not gonna come back for that trial date if that’s who they are or if that’s their circumstance.”

JUDGE SEE: “And really the only difference to that is whether or not a bond company is on the line that they have to pay the court for their failure to appear and they go back and they get that person and bring him to court. That’s the difference.”

COUNCILWOMAN GUIDRY: “And on a municipal charge how often does that happen?”

JUDGE SEE: “Oh, quite a bit actually. When I was in court this morning we had three of them.”

This is honest testimony based upon the honorable judge’s actual courtroom experience. It is not what Councilwoman Guidry wants to hear. It doesn’t fit her false narrative. She goes on to claim that she has “asked for the data” (regarding bondsman writing small bonds and returning their fugitives to municipal court) and claims “We have not been able to get it.”  She follows this with a whopper of a lie:

COUNCILWOMAN GUIDRY: “We’ve just been told by people who practice in the court that as a rule that bondsman won’t write small bonds.”

This is poppycock. Her false statement is immediately challenged by one of her colleagues on the City Council. Does anyone believe for even a second that a City Councilwoman who chairs the Criminal Justice Committee cannot easily obtain the number of secured and unsecured bonds posted in the City of New Orleans Municipal Court? Likewise, the number, and dollar amounts of forfeited secured bonds is a matter of public record maintained by the Clerk of the Court.

Why is it so important for Councilwoman Guidry to pretend that New Orleans bail agents won’t write small bonds? Because no rational person would suggest that it’s better to let all accused criminals out on unsecured promises to appear when the alternative is secured accountable bail that is posted to assure court appearance at no cost to the taxpayers.

Bail Reform Fairy Tales ~ By PJI Executive Director Cherise Fanno Burdeen

The charlatans at the so-called “Pretrial Justice Institute” loudly proclaim to anyone who will listen that “Bail in America is unsafe, unfair and ineffective.” They use a significant amount of other people’s money to disseminate their biased brand of bunk.

Last year they scammed over $3.2 million — mostly from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the John D. and Katherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.  According to their website, 95% of the money that the “Institute” obtained was spent on their own personnel, outside consultants, professional services, and travel. At PJI, they are big on “raising awareness.” Though of course they seek to eliminate our livelihood, their actual goal appears to be to raise additional funds.

PJI’s 2015 Annual Report contains a “Letter from Cherise Fanno Burdeen.” After she states “that 2015 was our funniest year on record” (seriously — she really does write this), she concludes her letter by noting:

“There is still much to be done in supporting pretrial systems that meet our national justice needs and values. This includes starting a major fundraising campaign to see us all the way into the end zone by 2020.

So clearly the folks at PJI are good at raising funds, building awareness and spreading the false message that “money bail” is somehow wrong. But how are they when it comes to implementing real pretrial release solutions that actually work?

PJI’s Executive Director Cherise Fanno Burdeen participated in a POLITCO panel discussion on criminal justice that was held at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Watch as she shares her fairy tale prediction of what she thinks will actually happen when you remove financial accountability and personal responsibility from the bail process:

“And people come back to court and they make their court appearances and they stay out of trouble pending trial and we can handle those cases in a far more humane and compassionate way.”

And everyone will live happily ever after. There will be no more fugitives from justice. No one will miss court or be needlessly pretrial detained because the magical risk assessment tests administered by dedicated government workers will accurately predict who intends to commit future crimes and who will seek to evade justice by missing their court dates.

Maybe at the “Institute” they need to stick with fundraising and “building awareness.” There already is a proven method of ensuring that accused defendants released pretrial actually do come back to court and make their court appearances. It’s called private, secured, accountable bail.

A bail agent pledges actual money with the state to guarantee that the defendant will appear in court. If the defendant fails to appear, the bail agent locates, apprehends and surrenders the fugitive back to court. If the bail agent fails to fulfill this obligation, he or she pays a substantial penalty to the state when the bail bond is forfeited. Private independent bail agents fulfill this critical role in the criminal justice system at no cost whatsoever to taxpayers.

I wonder what percentage of her paycheck Cherise Fanno Burdeen would be willing to forego for each defendant who fails to appear in court?

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.