private secured bail

Envisioning the End of “Money Bail”

A glimpse into a criminal justice system where no one is held accountable for the accused defendant’s appearance in court.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

The money police officer’s many years of experience tells him that something is not right. As he parks his money patrol car and steps out to talk with the young man who has aroused his suspicions, the young man suddenly bolts, sprinting down the sidewalk in complete disregard of the money officer’s shouted orders to stop. The suspect is wearing money designer sneakers but the officer is a regular at his money gym and quickly runs him down. He cuffs the young man. His suspicions are confirmed when he finds a small amount of money drugs in the young man’s pocket. He reads the suspect his rights and places him under arrest. The officer attempts to utilize the new money database system in order to fully confirm the young man’s identification and check for holds, but the money database is — as is usually the case lately —slow and buggy. The officer then un-cuffs the young man and issues him a citation. The money officer also verbally confirms the written citation and advises the young man that he must appear in court for his case.

The young man laughs and laughs when he later describes this encounter to his friends.

The young man misses his court date.

Due to the extremely high number of open bench warrants, the money judge orders the Clerk to instead set another court date and mail the young man another notice to appear.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

It occurs to the defendant once again that he is in really big trouble. In spite of the chilly temperature of the courtroom, beads of sweat appear on his upper lip as he listens to the State read the criminal charges that they are filing against him. Following the proceeding, the money lawyer advises him that the money bailiff doesn’t want them talking in the courtroom hallway. So they cross the street to the money Starbucks. After ordering money coffee, the money lawyer advises the defendant that his fee for representation will be $120,000.00. The defendant flinches at this but the money lawyer reminds him that the government is claiming that he fleeced millions of dollars from the taxpayers.

Without committing to the payment of his fee, the defendant advises the money lawyer that he will call him soon. The money lawyer leaves in his money Lexus.

The defendant sips the last of his money coffee and wonders how far $120,000.00 will go in Costa Rica.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

After being booked into the jail, the defendant meets with a disinterested clerk in a small office. The clerk advises him that he needs to drop urine once a week at a cost to him of $40 per visit.

“But my case isn’t even a drug case,” says the defendant.

The clerk appears annoyed by the question. She appears annoyed by the defendant.

“This is the only way you leave jail, understand?” It’s a question but she isn’t asking him anything. The defendant wonders what happens if he cannot afford to pay $40 each week but is afraid to ask her.

Instead he asks, “How long is this for?”

She says for as long as your case is open, which will be a lot longer if you miss any of the weekly drug tests.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

The money judge orders the defendant to be released from jail on a GPS monitoring bracelet.  This is the best the money judge can do, ever since they eliminated money bail. The defendant is ordered to pay $214 each month for his electronic “monitoring.” He will need a credit card and a land line at his house. He has neither.

“Get them,” says the judge.

Months later the defendant feels the hot tears of shame and embarrassment roll down his face. He can take the teasing from friends but he really likes that girl. With the bracelet strapped to his ankle he has no chance to be with her.  Or of getting past her father. He makes an impulsive decision to cut the strap and utters a vow under his breath that he doesn’t care what happens.

Nothing does happen. The credit card on file for his GPS bracelet is cancelled. Six months later the state noll prosses his case. No one ever asks him for the bracelet.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

The defendant has lived in the city for his entire life. He is charged with a non violent crime. In theory, of course, he is innocent until proven guilty. But he scores out as an unacceptable risk on the test they gave him at the jail. He doesn’t understand the test. Neither do the jailers who administer it. His number is too high. Maybe it is because of his past convictions. He has a history. He may be presumed innocent on this case but his high score gets him pretrial detention. There is no money bail to assure his appearance. His risk assessment score seals his fate. He sits in jail.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

Of course some money judges refuse to play along. They refuse to release accused defendants simply on empty promises to appear. They want someone to be held accountable. Absent the use of effective real secured money bail, they allow the defendant’s family to put up a refundable (mostly) 10% with the balance of the bail bond due as a punishment if the defendant fails to appear as required.

Mom pays $500 to the jail to get her son released. She signs her son’s bond guaranteeing to pay the $5,000.00 bond if her son fails to appear.

When her son fails to appear the judge issues a warrant for his arrest and forfeits his bail in the amount of $5,000.00. But no one ever makes any real effort to collect the forfeited bail amount from Mom.

Years later, intrepid journalists inquire why the Court never collected millions of dollars in forfeited bail. After countless blue ribbon panels and studies and endless discussions, the State concludes that the best course of action regarding the millions in uncollected bail forfeitures is to write it off as uncollectible.

Mom can’t afford it, they reason, and it would be a hardship if the State pushed her to pay her obligation. Besides, it can’t be easy having a son who is a fugitive. Actually, if you check the record, it is even worse than that. The poor woman has four children.

It turns out that they are all fugitives.

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.