Bail

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.

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.

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.

Thirty-three hours after being released from jail upon a promise to appear, drunk driver kills himself and four innocent people.

A suspended driver’s license didn’t deter 61-year-old James Pohlabein from driving his 1997 Chevy Silverado while drunk. At about 2:30am on Thursday, February 11, 2016 he lost control of his car and crashed it into a parked car. He hit it hard enough that the parked car slammed into another parked car.

It’s a safe bet that the Ohio police who responded to the scene had little difficulty in determining that Pohlabein was drunk. They arrested him for operating a motor vehicle without reasonable control and driving while intoxicated. The police took Pohlabein to jail.

James Pohlebeln

James Pohlebein, murdered four innocent people

When Pohlabein was dragged before the judge a few hours later, he pleaded not guilty. The presiding judge ordered Pohlabein released on his own recognizance.  He was let out of jail about 7pm on Thursday night, conditioned solely upon his own promise to appear.

No one has to worry about Pohlabein keeping his promise to appear in court to face criminal charges of driving drunk.

Approximately 33 hours after being released from jail — at about 3am on Saturday February 13 — Pohlabein was driving his car the wrong way on I-75 at a high rate of speed. It’s evident that he was committing the same crimes that caused his earlier arrest. He was driving blind drunk on his still suspended license and completely out of control. A witness called 9-1-1 to report their own narrow miss with the wrong-way car. But it was a futile call.

Pohlabein drove his car head-on into an oncoming SUV and murdered all four of its occupants. Four young, innocent, vibrant, useful and loved people died at the scene: Kyle Canter, 23; Earl Miller II, 27; Vashti Nicole Brown, 29; and Devin Bachmann, 26. Perhaps mercifully, Pohlabein died at the scene as well. It was a horrific and tragic wrong-way accident.

The article in the Dayton Daily News does not mention the name of the municipal court judge who released Pohlabein on his own recognizance. Nor will I. It is not the intent of this blog post to second-guess the judge’s decision. No one can accurately predict or guarantee human behavior. As both a human being and a judge he most certainly must feel horrible about what happened.

I would like instead to foster a discussion about a natural consequence and benefit of private, financially secured bail. What would have happened if Pohlabein had to post a secured bail bond, rather than simply issuing a promise to appear?

In such case — absent possessing the entire penal amount of the bail bond in cash — the accused defendant has to make a phone call. He needs help to secure his release. He cannot get out of jail by himself. So he calls a bail bondsman. What does the bondsman do first? The bondsman first brings the friends and family members of the defendant into the picture. The bail agent enlists people who are willing to be accountable and responsible for the accused defendant’s appearance. The bail agent needs people who will vouch for the defendant. As every bondsman knows, this is even more important than obtaining the premium for posting the bail bond. The bondsman needs people willing to help the accused and willing to participate in the posting of his financially secured bail bond.

A significant number of people who find themselves arrested are in the grips of alcoholism and/or drug addiction. Such was almost certainly the case with James Pohlabein. His former wife said that months earlier he had sent her text messages saying he wanted police to kill him after the death of his brother. A former neighbor of Pohlabeln said he drank frequently and that she had witnessed him stumbling “half-drunk” out of his car on several occasions. After the horrific wrong-way crash, the same neighbor told reporters, “He was always drunk” and “Somebody should [have done] something because everybody knows that he’s drinking like this.”

What would have happened if a bail agent had to speak to the ex-wife and the former neighbor of Pohlabeln in order to secure his bail bond? What if the bail agent had to speak to relatives of Pohlabeln before he could be released from jail?

Denial is a defining characteristic of sufferers afflicted with alcoholism and drug addiction. (“I don’t have a problem! You have a problem!”) In the warped world view of the active alcoholic it is all-too-often the parked car’s fault. Or whoever parked the car there — it’s their fault!

The purpose of a bail bond is appearance in court, make no mistake. But the process of obtaining a financially secured bail bond through a licensed bail agent requires bringing friends and family of the accused together. It is not uncommon for this to lead directly to an intervention with the accused. For many of our clients the arrest and — more importantly — the participation of family and friends, leads the accused to move beyond his denial. They begin to accept at last that they have a serious problem. It is a truism that admitting there is a problem is the first step in recovery.

I have no idea whether James Pohlabeln had anyone left in his life willing to vouch for him, to be accountable and to help. But I do know many of our clients turn their lives around and find the help they need following an arrest and the posting of their secured bail bond. I do know that as bail agents we often get to play a small but vital role in helping families to heal. During the course of doing our jobs, we often times bring families together and get a front row seat to miracles. We get to watch our clients find the help they need and transform their lives. This is often the most rewarding aspect of being a bail agent.

Again, I am not second guessing the judge who released James Pohlabeln on his own recognizance. But I cannot help but wonder what might have occurred had he been required to enlist the help of responsible family members and friends in order to secure his release from jail.

This is what the “free” publicly-funded pretrial release charlatans try to pass off as neutral, unbiased, and “evidence-based” when they peddle their baloney.

I recently received a link to a blog written by a disingenuous lying twat named Tim Schnacke. Schnacke wants to eliminate financially secured bail. That’s certainly his prerogative and he is not alone in his misguided beliefs. There are a number of folks — invariably on some version of the public dole — who think financially secured bail is somehow wrong. They try to create data to support their position but, lacking that, they typically fall back on their fundamental belief that what we do for a living as bail agents is somehow morally wrong. They don’t like us. They don’t like that we earn a living (“money bail”). If you scratch hard enough what they really don’t like is “caging” people. (This is their latest euphemism for jailing criminals.)

Tim Schnacke, liar

Tim Schnacke. Academic degrees? Yep! Integrity? Not so much.

Tim Schnacke and the folks like him advocate that when a police officer makes an arrest for a crime — immediately following the arrest — the officer should apologize to the accused for society’s many shortcomings. The officer should also express remorse for the inconvenience of having had to endure the arrest. After issuing a sincere and heartfelt apology, the police officer should then uncuff the accused criminal and issue to them a written notice to pretty please appear in court for their trial. What could possibly go wrong with that?

But I don’t begrudge Tim Schnacke for being a misguided and naïve moron. He, of course, holds quite a different opinion of himself (taken from his website):

“I think I’ve had plenty of formal education, and I hope I’m not forced to get any more (although I’m taking two classes on Coursera!)

And even though he wants to eliminate my livelihood, I don’t have any qualms with him running his outfit “The Center for Legal and Evidence-Based Practices” and hustling up as many handouts and grants as he can. (I am not sure how he makes a living but panhandling on the internet is part of the mix.) What does irk me, though, is that Tim Schnacke consistently and repeatedly claims to be neutral.

“The Center is neutral and nonpartisan, but articulates positions when they are supported by unbiased research and laws with firm constitutional bases.”

On his website, he writes:

“I’m Tim, a neutral voice in the world of bail reform and pretrial justice.”

Astoundingly, he italicizes and bold faces “a neutral voice,” presumably to emphasize his shameless lie

Does this well-educated (“I have a law degree, a masters of law degree, and a masters of criminal justice degree in addition to the two degrees that I got in college!”) dolt sound “neutral” to you? Please read the following excerpts from his blog and website and make a determination as to whether he is unbiased and neutral.

“The secured money bail system not only causes countless harms to society, it defies virtually every notion of American freedom and equality that we defend in our founding documents. Its very existence makes us worse.”

“The American bail system hasn’t worked since 1900.”

“This generation of bail reform, as most of you now know, is not so much a fight against bail agents as it is a fight about money at bail – which is why the statement on the agenda of all the “threatening arguments against the bail industry” is so misleading.”

“with insurance companies making money for doing nothing”

“when people are fully educated in bail, they automatically move toward change, and that change involves adopting a risk-informed system of pretrial release and detention (both for assessment and supervision) using less or no money.”

“the current system – with all of those huge amounts of money based on charge – is fundamentally flawed”

“the idea of a bail schedule being anything less than arbitrary and completely irrational is ludicrous.”

“As my dear friend’s delightful middle school daughter might respond, “OMG!” Doesn’t discriminate against the poor?! Are you nuts? It’s a money-based system, for goodness sake. Bail agents only help defendants with money.”

“we have simply spent too long not thinking money bail wrong”

“There may be a place for private pretrial in America, but the window for finding that place is rapidly closing.”

“Personally, I don’t think money is ever appropriate, but for those judges having a hard time with that idea, using an unsecured bond at least gets the defendant out of jail quickly”

“If I were in the bail insurance business, I would stop trying to pick apart the Arnold study and start trying to figure out how to change my business practices so that defendants deemed safe enough for release would at least get released quickly, even if that meant I might not make as much money.”

“They are a business, after all, supported by big corporate insurance companies with a fiduciary duty to make money despite whatever erosion to justice that may cause.”

“We need complete reform, and we can only accomplish that reform by intentionally leaving out many of the people responsible for the current broken system.”

“The other day I had an older gentleman who had been involved in criminal justice for decades try to argue with me about what he saw were the benefits of secured money bail.”

Does any of this poppycock sound remotely “neutral” or “objective” to you?  Schnacke is a poster child for opponents of accountability in pretrial release practices. When the data doesn’t support their beliefs, these hypocrites shamelessly lie and change their terminology. (“Calling it ‘Risk Assessment’ will work!”) This is why Schnacke is so adamant in his claims that bail is not about appearance. (“The purpose of bail itself is to release people!”)

If Schnacke can persuade gullible policy makers that bail is about release and not appearance then pretrial release programs can compete effectively with private bail. Any program — even inept ones run by government employees — can release people from jail. That’s the easy part. The answer to jail overcrowding according to these morons? It’s simple. Just release defendants from jail and ask them to please appear in court for their trial date. In Schnacke’s fantasy world, bail is solely about releasing people from jail. That has never been the purpose of any of the thousands of bail bonds I have been involved in posting. Each bail bond we post is a commitment and an obligation to have the defendant appear in court. Failing in that obligation, we risk paying a substantial penalty to the state.

Hypocrites like Schnacke claim that bail agents don’t arrest bond skips and return them to court following a non appearance. (“I have research to prove it!” he claims.)  Have you ever met a single bail agency owner who has not located, apprehended and surrendered their bond skips back to the court? Have you ever met a bail agent who hasn’t on occasion had to pay a bond forfeiture because he or she was unable to locate a fugitive in time? I have not.

Private bail works because independent committed bail agents are financially accountable to the courts for the appearance of accused defendants. To protect their financial guarantee, bail agents enlist the support and participation of the accused defendant’s family members, friends, and employers to help ensure their appearance.

Pretrial release on private financially secured bail works. Tim Schnacke? Not so much. In lieu of actual work, he prefers to panhandle on the internet and try to convince anyone who will listen that our honorable profession ought to be eliminated and replaced with ineffective government programs. Here then is my “neutral” and “objective” informed opinion of Tim Schnacke: He is a liar and a hypocrite.

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 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.”