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Because everyone else is doing it. Or because everyone else is not doing it.

A look at one of the lame-brained arguments used by opponents of accountable, secured pretrial release.

And, besides, what’s wrong with something that’s uniquely American?

Anyone in the bail bond business knows that there is an increasingly vocal and strident minority who would like to eliminate our profession completely. It doesn’t matter to them how effective we are at guaranteeing the appearance of defendants released pretrial. It doesn’t matter to them that we go out and routinely apprehend dangerous criminals who fail to appear at no cost to the taxpayers. It doesn’t matter to them that we are accountable to the criminal justice system and to the courts. It most certainly doesn’t matter to them that we pay taxes, support families and serve our communities.

None of the relevant facts matter. They are committed to ending what they call “money bail.” (We call it constitutionally protected secured bail.) The more money that these outfits siphon from the public trough, the louder become their cries to eliminate the evils of “money” in the criminal justice system. The irony is not lost on me that these “free” publicly-funded pretrial release advocates solicit “money” donations on their websites and grant applications.

Outfits like PJI burn through copious amounts of hard earned taxpayer “money” to produce bogus “studies” which invariably conclude that accused defendants should be released on unsecured bail bonds. One of their recurring fallacious arguments concerns the role of private commercial bail agents in the United States.

Popular does not always equal right

Popular does not always equal right

They argue that the United States is the only country in the world that has commercial bondsmen. Sometimes their claim is modified to state that only the United States and Singapore have commercial bail. I don’t know if this true or not, but honestly, who cares? The flawed argument is that since other countries don’t have such a system, therefore “money” (ie: secured and accountable) bail here in the United States ought to be eliminated.

First of all, when I went to school this was called an argumentum ad populum. My Mom had a much simpler description, “If all of your idiot friends jumped off of a bridge would you, too?[1] To be clear, what they are saying to policy makers and anyone else who will listen to their poppycock is that if most countries don’t have commercial bail, then commercial bail must not have value. To show you just how hypocritical and disingenuous they are, they will often follow this illogical argument – sometimes in the very following paragraph – with the claim that Washington DC and Kentucky have eliminated commercial bail and therefore the other states in the U.S. should as well. So they are left with this absurd position: Eliminate commercial bail because the overwhelming majority of the other countries don’t have it. Eliminate commercial bail even though the overwhelming majority of jurisdictions in the United States use it.

They are wrong on both counts. Of course it’s preposterous to suggest that commercial bail should be eliminated because other countries don’t have it. We have commercial bail because it is effective and serves a critical role in our criminal justice system – not because of its popularity in other countries. Besides the fact that such an argument is illogical, what is wrong with something being uniquely American?

I am proud of my profession as a bail agent. I am also proud to be a citizen of the United States. I could be wrong, but I think that – just like commercial bail – the following are some things that are uniquely American:

  • College Football
  • BBQ
  • Muscle cars
  • Thanksgiving
  • Boy Scouts
  • Apple Pie
  • Blue Jeans

The next time you hear one of these misguided zealots say that only the United States has commercial bail, let them know that it has taken the rest of the world a while to catch up with us on NFL football and Harley Davison motorcycles as well.

[1] Sometimes, Mom.

Absurd Tragedy illustrates inadequacies of Government-run Pretrial Release Programs

The vocal detractors of “money bail” often point to Washington D.C. as shining example of how things could be if we eliminated secured accountable private bail. Sadly, they couldn’t be more right.

In Washington D.C. they release 85% of accused criminals awaiting trial on unsecured bail through such a program. Program administrators claim that a whopping 87% of those released through their bloated government agency actually show up to court, though this figure is highly suspect. Even if accurate, having 13% of all accused criminals not show for trial hardly seems worth bragging about. Any bondsman who had 13% of his defendants on the lam would be looking for a new line of work.

Washington D.C. has tens of thousands of open felony warrants, and of course no one from the Pretrial Services Agency goes out looking for any of them. They do claim to send friendly text messages — which surely has D.C.’s most dangerous fugitives quaking in their boots.

On paper the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia looks fantastic. In return for the hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer dollars ($231,304,986 in 2015) they produce beautiful four-color reports and lofty mission statements like this:

The GPS tracker was attached to the suspect's fake leg.

The GPS tracker was attached to the suspect’s fake leg.

The Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia (PSA) assists judicial officers in both the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and the United States District Court for the District of Columbia by conducting a risk assessment for every arrested person who will be presented in court and formulating release or detention recommendations based upon the arrestee’s demographic information, criminal history, and substance abuse and/or mental health information.

For defendants who are placed on conditional release pending trial, PSA provides supervision and treatment services that reasonably assure that they return to court and do not engage in criminal activity pending their trial and/or sentencing.

PSA supervises approximately 16,000 defendants each year, and has oversight for approximately 4,000 individuals on any given day. PSA’s caseloads include individuals being supervised on a full range of charges from misdemeanor property offenses to felony murder. PSA administers evidence-based and data-informed risk assessment and supervision practices to identify factors related to pretrial misconduct and to maximize the likelihood of arrest-free behavior and court appearance during the pretrial period. PSA continues to improve its identification of defendants who pose a higher risk of pretrial failure, enhance its supervision and oversight of these defendants.

Supervise defendants to support court appearance and enhance public safety. PSA effectively monitors or supervises pretrial defendants to promote court appearance and public safety.

It sounds impressive, right? Of course most jurisdictions would be hard pressed to budget $230 million in order to supervise 4,000 defendants. (It’s nice to be the Federal Government.) Regardless, the Pretrial Services Agency has served the District of Columbia for nearly 50 years and is widely recognized by advocates of publicly funded pretrial release programs as a national leader in the field of pretrial supervision. They regard the Pretrial Services Agency’s “innovative supervision and treatment programs” as models for the criminal justice system.

What does this actually mean when they brag about how well this government program supervises and monitors accused criminals who are released pretrial? According to their own questionable records, more than 13 of every 100 released to their “supervision” abscond. And as for the ones that don’t become fugitives?  How, precisely, are they supervised in order to support court appearance and enhance public safety?

In April of this year, Quincy Green, 44, was arrested in Washington D.C. and accused of gun charges. He was released from jail pretrial through the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia. Green was enrolled in the program’s most restrictive form of pretrial release:  a GPS tracking bracelet. He joined the ranks of some 400 other defendants in D.C. who are awaiting trial and roaming about the capital while wearing a GPS tracker.

On May 19, 2016, Dana Hamilton was fatally shot. D.C. police suspected that Quincy Green was the murderer but the Pretrial Services Agency insisted that Green was confined to his apartment and that the GPS tracker proved he was not in the area where the murder took place. Eyewitness testimony and even sightings of Green by police officers were dismissed because the agency’s GPS data “proved” otherwise.

Finally the police obtained a search warrant based in part on a statement that the “devise barely moved” over the course of three days, something that somehow escaped the notice of the pretrial agency engaged in actively “monitoring” his whereabouts.

Police found the GPS tracking devise in Green’s apartment, attached to his prosthetic leg.

“I don’t understand how someone could put this device on a prosthetic leg,” said Sgt. Matthew Mahl, chairman of the D.C. police union. “It is frustrating for us as police officers to have one of our defendants released, especially when talking about dangerous crime like guns–and then to know that the accountability for these defendants isn’t always up to par.”

The director of the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia said all the right things, of course, including “This is the first instance where something like this has happened, and the results were tragic.”

It’s no doubt the first time they put a GPS tracker on a fake leg but it’s certainly not the first or last time that they release violent criminals with no one held accountable for either appearance in court or public safety. Guess how many employees of the pretrial agency will be fired over the murder of Dana Hamilton? Do you think they will cancel the contract with the private contractor who supplies and fits the GPS bracelets on the accused criminals they release? It’s naive to think that either will happen. Rather, the pretrial releases agency will continue to sell gullible taxpayers and politicians a bill-of-goods, that they safely release and supervise accused criminals.

Imagine the immense indifference and utter apathy required in order to fit a GPS tracker to a fake leg. This is far more than a forgivable lapse or simple mistake. This is the act of a person with absolute security that comes from knowing he cannot actually be held accountable. You would never ever find a bondsman making such a mistake since by definition he or she is accountable.  This kind of couldn’t-possibly-care-less attitude thrives amongst government employees where no one is actually held responsible for what happens. The budget of Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia will not be adjusted one penny following this tragedy. After a flurry of memorandums regarding not fitting the GPS trackers over a sock, the murder of Dana Hamilton will be quickly forgotten.

But it will not be forgotten by the 72-year old mother of the murdered victim: “This was the worst thing that ever happened to me. That man was supposed to be in his house.”

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.

A frog is a wonderful bird — except for the flying part

The Miami Dolphins ended another season, absent once again from the playoffs. They have been mired in mediocrity-at-best for a decade. But team owner Steven Ross, following a meaningless victory over the Patriots, has an interesting perspective. He told the assembled locker-room press that other than the actual winning football games part, the Dolphins are doing great.

“From every aspect except on the playing field we’re probably the first class organization in the National Football League”

I never thought about it this way before. If we judge the Dolphins based upon their cheerleaders or trainers, or landscapers, or things other than actually winning football games, then heck, maybe they are champions after all. Someone should let their legions of perpetually heartbroken fans know about this.

This sort of outlook sheds new light on the possibility that publicly funded pretrial release programs really are effective and worthwhile. They do many things well; except for the part about having defendants who are released pretrial actually show up for court.

For instance, these programs employ bunches of additional government workers and we all know what a great thing that is. Some of these pretrial release programs collect hundreds of gallons of urine from compliant (and presumed innocent) accused criminals. Some install electronic bracelets which helps the bracelet manufacturers and the paid electronic “monitors” who can track compliant defendants. (Non-compliant clients simply cut the bracelet off or fail to appear for the first appointment to have it put on.) These programs send out court notices to those accused criminals who are thoughtful enough to provide them with accurate addresses. They answer the phones during office hours except during lunch breaks, work breaks or paid government holidays. They have a lot of file cabinets, computers, coffee breaks, and government employee benefits.

For every aspect except actually being held accountable for the appearance of the defendant, these taxpayer funded pretrial release programs are first class organizations.

In my state of Florida, the statutes read that the terms “bail” and “bond” include any and all forms of pretrial release. So when an accused criminal is released pretrial — as most are and should be — they are released on bail. The only relevant questions are: who pays for that bail and is it truly a secured release or a figment of everyone’s imagination? Will someone actually be held accountable for the defendant’s appearance at trial?

The woman who supervises the Manatee County, Florida’s taxpayer funded “conditional release program” said, “The County does not ever post bond for anyone. That is the purpose of our program.”

For every aspect except the part about knowing what she actually does for a living, she is a winner! She goes on to say, “How are we to be held accountable for them attending court? Short of watching clients 24 hours per day, that is not possible. The bondsman don’t do that either.”

For every aspect except truthfulness, that’s a great statement!  Of course bondsman actually are held accountable. By tying up friends and family of the accused and by risking their own money, bail bond agents are indeed accountable for their defendants’ appearance in court. When their defendants fail to appear, the bail agents — on their own dime — locate, apprehend and surrender them back to the jurisdiction of the court. Failing that, they pay a substantial penalty to the government. When defendants are released pretrial on a taxpayer funded bail and subsequently fail to appear, we get another open felony warrant entered into the system.

And probably a government requisition form for some new office plants and urine cups.

A New Year’s Poem.

There are worse ways to spend 59-seconds than by watching this video of Tom Waits reading “The Laughing Heart” by Charles Bukowski. Happy New Years to you and yours!

The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

Tom Waits is an American singer-song songwriter and actor.  Charles Bukowski was an American author of poems, novels, short stories, and letters.

A few moments with bail bondsman Marco Polo Vital on being in the appearance business

Advocates of publicly funded pretrial release programs would have us believe that defendants who are released from jail pretrial simply need a friendly reminder of their court dates. In total disregard of the truth, they continue to tell gullible policymakers, politicians and judges that accused criminals can be trusted to appear in court as required. They argue that secured, private bail in which a bail agent is held accountable for the defendant’s appearance can be replaced with an expensive, ineffective government program that sends out court date notices.

Private bail agents, such as Marco Polo Vital, know that this is bunk. Vital has been a bondsman for 9-years in Broward County, Florida. He writes bail in Miami-Dade as well as Fort Lauderdale.

“Some you have to call; some are knuckleheads.”

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.

Update on St. Pete shooting

“It’s a dangerous profession, often misunderstood by the public.”

A local St. Petersburg, Florida news station aired an outstanding follow-up report, featuring an interview with Armando Roche, past president of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States (PBUS).

This brief video, which follows last week’s shooting at a McDonald’s drive through,  is well worth watching.

http://wfla.com/2015/11/13/video-of-shooting-at-mcdonalds-drive-thru-in-st-petersburg-called-disturbing/

 

Eight six seven five three (Oh!) nine

Remember this?

Remember this?

If you are of a certain age, perhaps you now have an infuriatingly insipid song about Jenny stuck in your head. You are welcome.

The world changes fast. I used to take pride in being able to quickly recall the telephone numbers of bail agents all across the country. It didn’t hurt that they were almost invariably good telephone numbers, ending in 7777 or 9999 or spelling “bail” (2245) or sometimes “bond” (2663).

Today, I have close family members for whom I don’t have the foggiest idea what their telephone number is. Driving in the car, I announce “Call Brian” and the next thing you know I’m chatting with my son.

I have 6,231 contacts in my telephone but if I lose that phone, I’d be hard-pressed to get a hold of my own sister.

I used to carry a “skypage” beeper everywhere I went. If you needed to reach me you would dial a toll-free 800 number and punch in your own telephone number at the prompt. I would call back pretty much instantly, even during an anniversary dinner. This partly accounts for why I don’t celebrate those particular anniversaries anymore. I took pride in always being available. I still do. It’s an occupational hazard, always being easy to reach. Now it’s also by email, text and Facebook.

After all this time one thing remains the same: the only thing worse than the phone ringing all the time is the phone not ringing all the time.

Amazingly (to me, anyhow) there are bail agents today who are difficult to reach. I have encountered agents that have messages that say “the user has not set up a voice mail box for this number.” Or even worse, “the voice mail box is full. Good bye.” Those agents don’t usually last.

Some jails only allow collect calls to a bail agent. I take them. Do you?

At the risk of sounding like the late Andy Rooney here, how long are we going to talk about “hanging up” a telephone?

Give me a call sometime.