Financially secured bail

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.