Pretrial release

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 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.

Take a wild guess who is going to pay for New Jersey “bail reform”?

New Jersey governor “Chris” Christie makes a lot of noise about reining in government spending. But at least when it comes to “bail reform,” he is spectacularly hypocritical.

When he wasn’t bullying his opponents, Christie trudged throughout New Jersey touting his reforms. His message was simple: Lock up the bad violent criminals, even if they haven’t been convicted of anything yet. Oh, and while you are at it, just let all of the other criminals whom we think are non-violent out without having to post bail. This way, poor harmless defendants won’t have to languish in jail indefinitely. Every bondsman knows the fallacy of this poppycock. What Christie neglected to mention to voters is that he’d rather have accused criminals languish in his pal’s private halfway houses or “rehab” programs.

The “lock-up-the-scary-guys” rhetoric must have been convincing because New Jersey voters found it palatable enough to approve a Constitutional amendment, sanctioning Christie’s scheme.

New Jersey Governor Christie, hypocrite extrordinaire

New Jersey Governor Christie, hypocrite extrordinaire

This “bail reform” bill-of-goods is slated to start in 2016 and be fully implemented in 2017. Morris County now projects that will cost $5 million to pay for this unfunded mandate. New Jersey has twenty other counties

“From a policy standpoint, we think bail reform is going to work.  The cash bail system is antiquated and unfair,” said John Donnadio, executive director of the Association of Counties. But, he said, the dilemma is how counties will pay for it.

I know how they will pay for it. The taxpayers of New Jersey will get hosed. They will foot the entire bill for a plan that is destined to fail. Cops in New Jersey who arrest suspects will be encouraged to let many of them go, after simply issuing a summons to appear. Picture how this actually works. First, a police officer has probable cause to believe that a crime has occurred. Then, he or she arrests the suspect and reads them their rights. A “Live Scan Fingerprinting” machine instantly checks for holds and warrants. Finding none, the police officer uncuffs the probable criminal and says go forth and please don’t forget to appear in court for trial. What could possibly go wrong with that?

Those accused criminals who do manage to make it to jail will go through a “risk assessment process” rather than having to post private secured bail.  The pretrial release program will release accused criminals who score out as a “low” or “moderate” risk. Don’t worry about mistakenly letting out poor risks to appear; the government pretrial release program will employ a special algorithm tool that analyzes the defendant’s background check. Seriously.  It’s astounding that anyone with a brain buys into this. But the taxpayers of New Jersey are about to – to the tune of millions and millions of dollars.

And what of these poor defendants who no longer have to stay in jail because they supposedly cannot afford to pay a private bail agent to post bond? Those who score out as “low” or “moderate” on the magic algorithm tool will be released for “free” after meeting with newly hired government Pretrial Services employees. After they score out to be released for “free” so they don’t have to languish in jail on account of being poor, they will be charged for frequent urine tests and electronic monitoring and weekly check-ins with the government employees.

Many of these accused criminals will decide that this is more trouble and expense than it’s worth and determine that they cannot afford the costs of their “free” release. They will fail to appear in court. Warrants will be issued but no one will look for them, especially not the newly minted Pretrial Release program employees. That’s not their job, they will say. Someone from the government might tinker with the magic algorithm tool at some point, but no one will be held accountable for the non-appearance of defendants released pretrial.

It’s a safe bet that New Jersey Governor and now presidential candidate “Chris” Christie doesn’t want voters to know the real story: That he wants to replace secured bail bonds — a private enterprise that works — with a bloated, ineffective government program that is destined to fail spectacularly.

A moment with bail bond agent Jackie Parker — he’s 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 defendants’s appearance can be replaced with a government program that sends out court date notices.

Private bail agents, such as Jackie Parker, know that this is bunk. Parker has been a bondsman for 20-years in Greenville, North Carolina.

 

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.

 

Electronic GPS tethers may reduce jail populations but the other promises — like public safety, reducing jail costs and guaranteeing appearance for trial — are a figment of everyone’s imagination.

 

Isn’t the idea of this technology appealing? Instead of incarcerating people just make them wear a GPS bracelet and “monitor” them around-the-clock. In Wayne County, Michigan, they claim savings of over $20 million annually through this type of program. It’s such a simple concept: just let folks out of jail and put electronic tethers on them instead. You can tether and release rapists, armed robbers, even murderers. Watch the savings mount. It sounds like a good deal, huh? Except the whole hare-brained scheme tends to be a figment of everyone’s imagination.

Ankle-monitorThere is a very good article about the use of these devices here.

First, let’s look at these so-called “savings”. Twenty-million dollars annually is a bunch of jail-issued baloney sandwiches. Where exactly are these savings coming from? Here is how they come up with these fantasy savings of over $20 million annually. On any given day Wayne County lets about 500 accused criminals stay out of jail and instead freely roam about with GPS tethers. As a starting place, Wayne County takes their total jail budget and divides it by the total number of inmates they house in order to come up with a “cost per day” of incarceration. So, they will then claim that it costs, for example, $125 per day to house an inmate. Therefore, according to this twisted logic, upon releasing 500 criminals from jail they can then claim that they are “saving” $62,500 per day. This is where they get their preposterous figure of over $20 million in annual savings.  There is a problem with this claim, however. When they release 500 accused criminals, do they then lay-off any deputies? Do they reduce pensions? Close a wing of the jail? They claim “savings” of over $20 million, but how much does the Sheriff’s budget get reduced? You better believe that it doesn’t. The sheriff’s budget — you guessed it — goes up. So the savings are an illusion.

By the way, it’s only fair to give private bail agents the benefit of the same ridiculous narrative. In such case, when using the same “logic,” every defendant out on private bail also “saves” the county $125 per day — without the costs to the county associated with running a GPS tracking program.

Second, let’s look at public safety and supervision. It’s a safe bet that an accused armed robber in jail will not endanger the public. When we tether him up and let him go, what then? If you think the bracelet on his ankle will protect the public safety, then you are a special type of gullible. In fact, many of these idiots wearing bracelets are later convicted of new crimes because the tether actually proves that they were present at the scene of the crime. A quick Google search reveals that some of these brain surgeons actually rob banks while being “monitored” with a GPS bracelet.  A dirt-bag criminal named Demetrius Edwards was wearing a tether when he murdered Cedell Leverett. His GPS tether flawlessly confirmed his location at the time and scene of the murder.

“A New Orleans program came under fire last year when two 16-year-olds wearing tethers were charged with murdering a Domino’s Pizza delivery driver in an attempted carjacking. A New Orleans inspector general’s report found significant weaknesses in the program including a failure to detail violations, unclear procedures to deal with violations and alerts that were ignored.”

Speaking of being “monitored,” here is the biggest illusion of them all. As a general rule, these GPS units do an excellent job of providing the exact location and time when the bracelet is cut off.  The criminal gets to decide when he would like to no longer be “monitored.” All he needs to do is cut off the tether. It’s true that in theory an alert will occur and if everyone then does their job correctly (a huge “if” here — many times it is weeks before any action on a tamper violation is taken), law enforcement will spring into action and often times be able to successfully retrieve the cut bracelet.  As for the fugitive? Well, they will likely ask the judge to issue a warrant for the fugitive’s arrest and hope for the best. He will undoubtedly be more difficult to locate than the cut bracelet is.

According to the article, this is how these accused felons are actually being monitored:

“A 2013 audit by the Los Angeles County Probation Department found that one in four tethers strapped to serious criminals in the county was faulty. The report cited dying batteries, false alarms and malfunctions that resulted in a failure to report locations of inmates for extended periods.”

Orange County, Fla., suspended its tether program in 2013 after a man wearing a tether while awaiting trial for a home invasion shot and killed a witness in the case and wounded two other people. A review showed the man cut off his device. The county agreed to pay $100,000 to each of the families of the three shooting victims.”

The article goes on to cite Chief Judge Fred Lauten of Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit: “When electronic monitoring was presented to us, it sounded like a great idea.  It sounded high-tech and it was like, ‘wow, we can sort of track people.’ It really sounded good.”

Obviously, the good judge became disabused of the notion that GPS bracelets could somehow prevent violent crimes. “Somehow, in the public’s perception, electronic monitoring became more than it ever really was,” he said.

So in summary:

  • The GPS tethers do not prevent crime
  • They do not protect the public
  • They do not ensure that defendants actually comply with their release conditions
  • They do not ensure or guarantee a defendant’s appearance in court
  • They do not even save jail costs
  • They do reduce jail populations

These gizmos might have some use: if you can’t find the fugitive, maybe you can locate his pet cat.

It would be cheaper and just as (in)effective to do away completely with the pretense of these programs; Simply let these violent criminals out of jail upon a promise to behave and appear in court  when required.

Or, of course, if you are legitimately concerned with reducing jail costs, protecting the public safety and ensuring appearance in court, you can require that the friends and family of the accused post a secured bail bond.

Then let a bondsman do his or her job, at no cost to the taxpayers.

Shooting in St. Petersburg, Florida puts private bail into spotlight

Tragically, during the recent apprehension of a fugitive felon, a woman named Vonceia Welch was shot. First news reports suggest that the shooting was accidental. Welch was a passenger in the same car as a fugitive who was being sought by bail agents. The fugitive, Deveon Stokes, was taken into custody. The driver of the car, Joshua Allonso Malone, was also a wanted fugitive and was arrested by police after the shooting.

News reports state that a team of 3 or 4 bail agents caught up with their fugitive in a car at the drive-up window of a St. Petersburg McDonalds. When the bail agents surrounded and approached the car a gun was discharged and Welch was injured.

The man they were after, Stokes, has a lengthy criminal history dating to 2007. He served 20 months in prison on charges of extortion and grand theft of a motor vehicle. He was released in May 2014, and was arrested a month later, and this time accused of cocaine possession. His most recent arrest was in June. When he failed to appear for a pretrial hearing on his drug case, a new warrant for his arrest was issued and his $21,000 bond was forfeited by the court. Malone, the sedan’s driver, was wanted on unrelated aggravated assault and firearm possession charges from an Oct. 19 incident where police said he shot at three people, one of them a toddler. By any reasonable measuring stick, these two are each bad actors and potentially very dangerous criminals.

None of this, of course, justifies the shooting of the car’s other passenger, Vonceia Welch. No one yet knows for certain what took place when the shooting occurred. The state is looking into the possibility of criminal charges against the bail agent who fired the shoot. There almost certainly will follow civil actions. The facts are not yet known, and an investigation by the police and state attorney is underway.

The absence of any direct knowledge of the situation hasn’t deterred one of commercial bail’s most vociferous critics from weighing in with his special brand of utter nonsense. Timothy Murray, a hypocrite who for decades fronted a publicly-funded DC outfit called “The Pretrial Justice Institute,” felt compelled to weigh in on this tragedy in order to promote his lame-brained agenda. Murray called the shooting “tragically emblematic of how broken the cash bail bond system is.”

Tim Murray, a disingenuous hypocrite

Tim Murray, a disingenuous hypocrite

“It [money bail] was never designed to make the community safe. There is no accountability,” he said, adding that bail money goes “directly into the pockets of businessmen.”

Murray went on to say that the system is supposed to guarantee someone who has made bail shows up to court. But it doesn’t work, he said, otherwise bond agents wouldn’t have anyone to chase. “The very thing that was supposed to assure his appearance — cash on the table — he didn’t do it,” he said.

Even Murray cannot possibly be stupid or obtuse enough to believe what he is saying. Rather, he is being purposefully disingenuous by claiming that if commercial bail worked, bail agents wouldn’t have to “chase” fugitives. Murray disregards that this is precisely why commercial secured bail works — because bail agents have a vested financial interest in making certain that their defendants appear in court.

Regardless of the tragedy that took place, this team of bail agents risked their own lives in order to bring a dangerous fugitive to justice. The reason they apprehended and arrested Deveon Stokes and returned him to the Pinellas County jail is to avoid paying a $21,000 penalty for failing to fulfill their obligation to the state of Florida on the bond.

For decades, Tim Murray has advocated for the “free” pretrial release of accused criminals. The most significant problem with this approach beyond the waste of tax dollars needed in order to staff these ineffective government programs is that when a defendant fails to appear in court, no one is held accountable. It’s a sucker’s bet that Tim Murray and his fellow “free bail” zealots will never be involved in a shooting during the apprehension of a fugitive. This is because they don’t ever attempt to bring back fugitives. If you ask one of these free pretrial advocates “what do you do when they fail to appear in court?” you are most often met with a glassy-eyed, dumbfounded stare. Typically, they will shrug and guess that since a warrant is issued, maybe the police will make an arrest?

Timmy Murray started out his career — the entirety of which seems to have been spent on the public dole — in Miami-Dade County, Florida where he helped set up the nation’s first drug court. For 14 years he headed up the county’s “free” pretrial release program, and affected the wholesale release from jail of thousands of accused felons. As a result, Miami-Dade County currently has literally tens of thousands of open felony warrants and a budget that only allows law enforcement to actively seek out the worst of the worst.  Drug court is considered by many criminals as a complete joke – they know they will be released from jail for free and that there will be little or no consequences for non-compliance. The program allows defendants to get of jail for free and to commit violations over and over and over again with virtually no consequence. No one is held accountable for their non-appearance in court.

Murray also never misses an opportunity (like this shooting) to rant his misguided belief that commercial secured bail keeps poor low level offenders “trapped” in jail while those with money have a way out – even when facing more serious charges. This is complete bunk. Deveon Stokes is not affluent yet he and his family were easily able to obtain the services of a bail agent to secure his release from jail. Bail agents routinely allow their clients to make payments. The family of the accused (as opposed to the taxpayers) pays a small percentage of the bail. However, the bail agent pledges the entire amount ($21,000 in this case) to the state as security. If the bail agent fails to produce the defendant he or she pays a substantial penalty to the state.

In contrast to Murray’s drivel, the reporter also sought out St. Petersburg police Chief Tony Holloway who said that police generally have a “very good working relationship” with bail bondsmen.

The reporter also contacted Armando Roche, past president of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States.”The arrest by bail bondsmen of people that fail to go to court occurs every single day across this country,” he said. “Not to the extent of what happened in St. Pete today, but these arrests are effectuated every day.”

Typically, when an accused criminal fails to appear as required in court, a judge issues a warrant for their arrest. If the defendant is on a secured commercial bail, a bail agent goes looking for them, makes an arrest and brings them back to custody. If they are released via one of Tim Murray’s government programs, a warrant is issued and hopefully the defendant will one day run into law enforcement.

Which alternative is a better deal for taxpayers?

“How do they get them back to court?”

“This is an insane way of doing business.”

I don’t know who made this video but it was sent to me by Guy Ruggerio. Guy is the President of the Association of Louisiana Bail Underwriters. Guy also serves with me on the board of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States (PBUS).

I like the video very much. (If anyone knows who put this together, please let me know.) Often we bail agents are accused of speaking or acting from our pocket books. It is true we have a vested financial interest in pretrial release. But we also have a front row seat and a unique perspective that allows us to evaluate different methods of pretrial release. All too often the taxpayers are sold a complete bill-of-goods, which certainly seems the case here.

They don’t have a clue

You would think that after all this time I would be immune to the special form of indignation that arises in me when it becomes all-too-clear that otherwise intelligent folks have no idea what it is I do for a living.

Magnifying_glass_icon_mgx2.svgI came across an article titled “Awaiting trial, they’re free to a point” that was recently published in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.  The article was written by reporter Dale White. Mr. White sang the praises of two local publicly-funded programs that release defendants and thereby “save” the counties up to $74 a day, which would be the costs of locking them up. The article claims that for as little as $1.81 a day these programs assure that “taxpayers are not getting stuck with the tab of confining someone.”

I took exception to the newspaper article and wrote the following to Mr. White:


Sent via email to: dale.white@heraldtribune.com

Mr. White:

Your article hyping the benefits of Sarasota and Manatee’s publicly funded bail programs is misleading at best. In Florida the terms “bail” and “bond” include any and all forms of pretrial release.

When Eric (who asked you not to use his last name) got arrested for driving drunk he was released on a publicly-funded bond. The taxpayers picked up his entire tab. Your article stated that poor Eric would likely have sat in jail for months, ruining his life and costing taxpayers more than $6,000 for his incarceration. This is poppycock. Almost certainly Eric would have bonded out – at his own expense rather than through these government programs. The bond for a drunk driving charge in Sarasota is typically $500. If Eric and his family and friends were unable or unwilling to post the $500, they could have easily obtained a bond from a Sarasota bail agent for $100. In addition, most bail agents in Sarasota are willing to take payments. Your statement that a bondsman may not even bother posting bond for low bail bonds is untrue. Every bail agent in Sarasota regularly posts bail for $100. So the question is: who pays for the bail for Eric? The accused and his friends and family, or the taxpayers of Sarasota and Bradenton?

No one is languishing in Sarasota or Manatee County jail because they cannot find a bondsman willing to post a $100 bail.

If you are going to claim that these two county programs “save” the taxpayers $880,000 each month in detention costs by releasing defendants from jail, then use the same math for Sarasota and Bradenton’s private bail agents. Applying the same logic and figures, private bail agents save the county millions of dollars, since their clients are released from detention as well — but at no cost whatsoever to the taxpayers.  If the publicly-funded program “saves” the county $74 a day (at a cost of $3.20 a day) then so does the private bondsman (but at no cost).

More importantly, the purpose of bail is not to reduce jail populations.  The purpose of posting bond is to guarantee appearance. Once again, the private bail agent provides a far better value to Sarasota and Bradenton residents. When a defendant in “Supervised Release” or “Pretrial Services” fails to appear nothing happens beyond the issuance of yet another warrant. One more warrant gets entered into the system along with the thousands of other open un-served felony warrants.  None of the government employees employed by these pretrial release programs is held accountable for the defendant’s failure to appear. Nor are they responsible for locating and apprehending the fugitive. In contrast, when a bail agent’s defendant fails to appear, the bail agent locates, apprehends and surrenders the defendant back to the county jail at no cost to the taxpayers. If the bail agent fails in this obligation, he or she pays a substantial penalty to the county.

Which is a better deal for taxpayers? Another ineffective government program whose real purpose is simply to let accused criminals get out of jail for free? Or private bail agents who guarantee the appearance of defendants released pretrial?

Lastly, according to your article, the ten employees of the Manatee program work weekdays only, while in Sarasota their program’s 25 employees work a whopping 325 days a year. A bondsman — whose services are available 24-hours a day, 365 days a year — would call that vacation.


Dale White got back to me:

From: White, Dale [mailto:dale.white@heraldtribune.com] Sent: Friday, August 28, 2015 2:59 PM
To: A Bail Bondsman
Subject: RE: Unequal Justice

Obviously, it was not my intention to hype. Perhaps the bail bond industry should convince the judiciary it should not be using these programs. The judges must see some merit in them.


And I responded:

Dale,

Thanks for getting back to me. Frankly, part of the reason judges see merit in these programs is due to poorly researched articles and a successful campaign being waged by these programs. How many of the defendants released through these programs subsequently fail to appear? Frequently, these programs hide their true number of failures. For example they base their failure rate on total court appearances (If a defendant has ten court appearances and only misses his trial, they pass that off as a 10% failure rate).  Or they “disqualify” clients for breaching and no longer even count them when they fail to appear. The best method for researching this matter is to look at open felony warrants. How many are there in Bradenton and Sarasota? What happens when a person released to this program fails to appear? Does anyone look for the fugitives?

Isn’t it almost certain that Eric (name withheld) would have bonded out? And if so, wouldn’t the taxpayers be better served by having him post a private bond? Are there really poor folks languishing in your two jails due to their inability to post bond? I know that it was never your intention to hype, but I think you were sold a bill of goods.

Maybe in the future when you are covering pretrial release matters, you could touch base with one of your local bondsman. There are really good ones in Sarasota and Bradenton. If you need contact names or telephone numbers of local agents I can provide them to you. Alternatively, I can provide you with information pertaining to bail. Feel free to contact me anytime.


And here is the email that made me crazy:

 From: White, Dale [mailto:dale.white@heraldtribune.com] Sent: Tuesday, September 01, 2015 2:58 PM
To: A Bail Bondsman

Subject: RE: http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20150822/ARTICLE/150829880

I forwarded Mr. Heffernan’s comments to Manatee County Supervised Released (without his name) to see how they might respond. Here is what I received back:

As to the comments below, I have looked up Eric’s case again, just to be sure that I am stating facts. When Eric was originally arrested, he was placed on Supervised Release with electronic monitoring, at his own expense. Therefore, the only expense to the taxpayers, is the Supervised Release program, which you explained the cost in the article. That is fact. Saying that almost certainly he would have bonded out is an opinion. He could have bonded out prior to his hearing and did not. He had a subsequent hearing, in which the electronic monitoring was deleted and he was required to post bond. This bond was through A Heaven Sent Bail, which is a private company.

I do not know the rules of bond companies, though, clients have told me they do not take payments. The County does not ever post bond for anyone. That is the purpose of our program. There most certainly are clients in jail, with a prior history, that are unable to post $100 bond or find a bondsman. That is fact. I’m sure the Public Defender could provide numerous cases of this. No one said that bondsman don’t save the county money. They just don’t have the same responsibilities to the court.

His comments about us issuing a warrant vs. their paying money make no sense. 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. Furthermore, the bondsman don’t ensure they are following the conditions set by the court, such as no contact with the victim or no drugs/alcohol. This puts the safety of the community at risk. The County is responsible for their apprehension, as it is the deputies and officers that arrest them.

Our staff work 7 days per week, just not 24 hours per day. I understand that bondsman serve a purpose too, but they should stick with facts.

Let me know if you need further clarification.


 “How are to be held accountable for them attending court?” Huh??


Me, again:

Mr. White,

Thanks so much for fostering this dialog and your openness to examining this issue.

A few points:

  • Following his arrest, Eric was almost certainly encouraged not to bond out prior to his first court appearance, since he would have been advised that he would get out for “free” through the program.
  • When he discovered his release was not “free” and required an electronic bracelet that he had to pay for, he had his private lawyer (that he paid for) file a motion to get that condition removed and he agreed to pay for a bond through a private bail agent. If he was on bond, why would the taxpayers need to pay for his continued enrollment in the program?
  • Most every bail agency in Bradenton and Sarasota will take payments and this is easy enough to confirm.
  • The county certainly does post bond insofar as Florida Statute 903.011(1) defines the terms “bail” and “bond” to include any and all forms of pretrial release. So, again, the question remains: who should pay for the bond securing release? The friends and family of the accused? Or the taxpayers?
  • It easy enough to confirm that most every agent in Bradenton and Sarasota regularly posts $100.00 bonds. Defendants are not languishing  in jail because they are poor or unable to find a bondsman willing to post a $100 bond. They are in jail because they are a demonstrated flight risk or, more often, they have other holds such as violation of probation, immigration, or prior failures to appear.
  • The primary purpose of any bond (cash, corporate surety, supervised release, etc) is to guarantee the appearance of the defendant. If a bail agent fails in this obligation he or she pays a substantial penalty to the county equal to 1,000% of what they grossed for posting the bond. (For example: If Gary Johnson collects $100 gross for posting the bond and the defendant fails to appear and cannot be located by Gary, Gary pays 10 times what he collected as a penalty.) In contrast the spokesperson for the pretrial release program says “How are we to be held accountable for them attending court?” Question: If they cannot adequately assure appearance in court, how can they claim to enforce the other conditions? A private bail agent is accountable for ensuring that his clients appear in court.
  • If a defendant on bond fails to appear, the bondsman goes out and apprehends them. If a defendant released through the program fails to appear, the county gets another warrant entered into the system.

The article that you wrote leads with the misleading statement that poor Eric might still be sitting in jail with his life ruined if not for this program. Now we learn that Eric did, in fact, pay for electronic monitoring, a private attorney, and a private financially secured bond.

Again, thank you for being open to learning more about what we do for a living.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me anytime.


This, then, is what we are left with from the spokesperson of the Manatee County Supervised release program:

“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.”

I would write more but I need to go look for a bond skip. Either that or pay a $50,000. penalty to the county within 60 days.

And so it goes.