Out on Bail

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

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

What utter poppycock.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happens if Van Dyke flees?

What happens if Van Dyke flees?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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