After revelations in Oaks case, advocates urge lawmakers to avoid bail-bond industry lobbyists

After allegations surfaced last week in court filings that Sen. Nathaniel Oaks admitted taking a bribe from a representative of the bail-bond industry, criminal justice advocates urged Maryland lawmakers Wednesday to avoid contact with industry lobbyists. The advocates held a news conference hours before the start of the 90-day General Assembly session to brand the bail-bond industry as inherently corrupt. They called on lawmakers to return any contributions they have received from the industry and to refuse to sponsor the industry’s bills. “We went any legislation put forward and supported by the bail-bond industry to be recognized as tainted, illegitimate and should not be considered,’ said Larry Stafford, executive director of Progressive Maryland. A spokesman for the state’s bail-bond industry could not immediately be reached for comment. Stafford, part of the Coalition for a Safe and Just Maryland, pointed to news accounts of a filing in the federal case against Oaks, a Baltimore Democrat who faces trial in April on charges of corruption and obstruction of justice. Prosecutors alleged that Oaks received illegal payments from an unidentified “Person #1” to influence his vote and other efforts on behalf of bail-bond legislation. According to the filing, that person also made payments to at least one other elected official. Caryn York, executive director of the Job Opportunities Task Force, warned that lawmakers who align themselves with the bail-bond industry risk being seen as tainted as well. “It puts their own ethics and integrity in question,’ she said. The advocates are seeking to preserve and build on a rule adopted by the Court of Appeals instructing judges to de-emphasize cash bail as a way to assure that criminal defendants appear in court. Earlier, Attorney General Brian E. Frosh had issued an opinion that a system under which some defendants remain in jail because they can’t afford cash bail would Continue Reading

Ex-Las Vegas police Explorer in custody after bail bond is revoked

Former Las Vegas police Explorer Joshua Honea, 24, talks to his attorneys Monique McNeill, left, and Jonathan MacArthur at the Regional Justice center Monday. Dec. 18, 2017, after being convicted of sexual assault of a minor. Prosecutors accused him of maintaining a yearslong sexual relationship with a teen, starting when she was 12. K.M. Cannon Review-Journal @KMCannonPhoto Former Las Vegas police Explorer Joshua Honea, 24, reacts at the Regional Justice center Monday. Dec. 18, 2017, after being convicted of sexual assault of a minor. Prosecutors accused him of maintaining a yearslong sexual relationship with a teen, starting when she was 12. K.M. Cannon Review-Journal @KMCannonPhoto A little over a week after he was convicted of sexual assault of a minor, a former Las Vegas police Explorer is back in custody. Joshua Honea, 24, was arrested Tuesday after Dad’s Bail Bonds revoked his $250,000 bond, Honea’s attorney, Jonathan MacArthur, said Wednesday. “Somebody contacted (the bail bondsman’s) insurance company and said, ‘We think he’s a flight risk,’” MacArthur said. “When we got the owner on the phone, he said it was his own personal decision.” After Honea was convicted Dec. 8, prosecutor Stacey Kollins asked District Judge Kathleen Delaney to remand Honea to custody, but Delaney denied the motion. “The defendant has been out of custody,” she said. “I have no reason to believe that he will not return at the time of sentencing.” MacArthur said Honea has been out on bond since March in a deal his grandparents made with the company, using their house as collateral. Honea was convicted of sexual assault of a minor younger than 16 because he maintained a yearslong sexual relationship with a girl, starting when she was 11. His accuser, now 18, recanted her testimony on the stand, telling jurors she made the story up to get Honea in trouble. When MacArthur told the girl Honea Continue Reading

Our Bail-Bond System Is Broken

How much did you pay to be free today? Every day, innocent people are held for ransom in a system that’s become a profitable sector of the financial industry: bail. New research by the ACLU and Color of Change reveals just how damaging to communities this marketplace for hostages of the criminal-justice system has become. Two years ago, the social upheaval of Ferguson exposed how in many cities and towns, law enforcement uses predatory fines and fees to criminalize people to extract revenue. The bail-bond industry links the criminal process even more tightly to the financial industry, directly exploiting families by ensnaring them in an increasingly privatized criminal-justice apparatus. The commercial bond market—one of the world’s only for-profit bail systems—has grown over time into an industry that trades in $14 billion worth of desperation each year. “It’s extractive, it is harmful, and it is not helping in creating a more safe and just community,” says Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change. Without structural reforms to restrict the use of bail by police and courts, he says, under current policies “you are better off being guilty and rich than innocent and poor in this country.” After an arrest, commercial bail-bond agencies track people into multiple layers of coercion—they’re first locked up while awaiting trial, then face a bail bondsman who essentially determines their pretrial incarceration terms. In contrast to a court hearing, with some guarantee of transparent due process, according to American Bar Association, bail agents are empowered to set fees and collateral requirements, determine the rules for bond, or even whether to offer bail at all, “in secret, without any record of the reasons for these decisions.” When justice is blind to everything but profit, actual guilt has no bearing on your sentence. Especially in black and brown communities where Continue Reading

Bail bond industry mounts another attack on N.J. reforms

Reality TV star Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman traveled to Trenton with his wife Beth last week to announce that the couple were joining a federal lawsuit against Gov. Chris Christie aimed at derailing the major changes New Jersey recently made to its criminal justice system.Standing outside the U.S. District Court building there, Beth Chapman, who serves as president of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States, declared that Christie’s legacy “will forever be stained by the blood” of Christian Rodgers, a 26-year-old man who was gunned down in Vineland earlier this year by a man who just days earlier had been arrested and released under the state’s new bail reform law that Christie supports.“You created and advanced a program that puts dangerous criminals on the streets to pick off all of your children,” she said of Christie as Rodgers’ tearful parents stood nearby. BAIL REFORM: Bar fight over football morphs into bail reform challenge EDITORIAL: Bail reform should not put the public at risk NEW JERSEY: Christie expands housing program for struggling families The Chapmans’ lawsuit is at least the second legal challenge to New Jersey’s bail reform initiative funded by entities with a stake in America's multibillion-dollar bail bond industry, which has been crippled in New Jersey as a result of the changes pushed by Christie. As states from Texas to California look to New Jersey for ideas on how to reduce the number of as-yet-innocent people sitting in jail awaiting trial, the fate of New Jersey’s experiment will have implications far beyond its borders.“The bail industry doesn’t want other states to see successful models that deemphasize money,” said Alexander Shalom, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. “To the extent we’re successful thus far, it scares the Continue Reading

Woman allegedly uses stolen check for bail

The relationship between Randy Rehnstrom and Sierra Wilbanks is unclear, but it appears that Wilbanks went to great lengths to get Rehnstrom out of jail: Police are alleging she used a check stolen in a burglary Rehnstrom  was involved in to bail him out.Now both are jailed in Purgatory Correctional Center, albeit in different sections.Rehnstrom, 21, is charged with burglary of a dwelling, unlawful possession of identification documents, three counts of acquiring a financial card without consent, possession of stolen property, possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute, possession of marijuana, fraud and two counts of distribution of methamphetamine to an undercover agent.Wilbanks, 20, is charged with fraud and forgery of a document — she was arrested two days after allegedly using the stolen check.The pair's tangled story began Wednesday when Rehnstrom originally was arrested — a St. George Police officer on bike patrol stopped him for questioning, according to a probable cause statement filed in the case.“While talking with Randy, the Washington County Drug Task Force indicated over the radio that Randy needed to be arrested,” the arresting officer wrote.The task force had conducted two controlled buys within the last 150 days in which Rehnstrom allegedly sold methamphetamine to undercover agents, court papers indicated.During the arrest, officers allegedly discovered a “distributable amount of methamphetamine,” a blank check, three credit cards and a Social Security card that were from a burglary reported on May 9.A driver’s license from a Nevada resident, and multiple other drugs and paraphernalia were also allegedly found on Rehnstrom, according to the statement.On Thursday, Rehnstrom was bailed out of jail on a $63,000 bond with a check that was allegedly stolen from the previous burglary victim, according to a probable cause statement.“I was contacted by a bail Continue Reading

Bond companies ‘extremely worried’ as Arizona moves away from cash bail bonds

Every three hours, family members and friends of alleged lawbreakers sit in a tiny, windowless waiting room in downtown Phoenix, straining to hear the fate of their loved ones. Through a monitor, they can watch as the defendants approach a judge and listen to the allegations of crimes committed. The big moment comes at the end, when the judge reveals the bond amount. "You have a $5,000 secured appearance bond in this court case, sir," she tells one man accused of possessing dangerous drugs. A floppy-haired young man accused of resisting arrest is released on his own recognizance.In the lobby, there are small celebrations and sighs of relief for the good news. For the high bonds, family members curse or shake their heads. Celebrations may be even more likely as the months pass.A metamorphosis is underway in the state's pretrial release system. Through judges' directives, Arizona courts appear to be paving the way to wipe out the financial-bail model.Judges have been urged to rely on individuals' personal risk factors to determine their release conditions rather than a standardized dollar amount based on allegations.Proponents for bail reform say changes could ensure that low-risk defendants aren’t sitting in jail just because they are poor, and high-risk defendants aren’t released because they can foot the bill.An April 3 rule change set in motion by the Arizona Supreme Court urges judges to embrace the risk-assessment system, spelling out the release options that should be favored over the ones that require a bail-bond company. “This is a major undertaking,” said Jerry Landau, government-affairs director for the Arizona Supreme Court. “It’s a major step in criminal-justice reform that affects the community and affects many people who come in contact with the criminal-justice system.”The move is energizing criminal-justice reform advocates but stoking fear among the state’s bail-bonds Continue Reading

Will Delaware end cash bail?

About 60 men and women, wearing the clothes they were arrested in hours earlier and shackled at their ankles and wrists, shuffled one at a time up to the judge who would decide whether they should be released from the Washington, D.C., jail.A new case was heard every three minutes. And cash bail had nothing to do with defendants' ticket to freedom.Those charged with nonviolent crimes were set free on the promise they would appear at the next court hearing – including an accused drug dealer, a cocaine user, a thief and a string of others.Those considered the most dangerous – such as a man arrested for not having a license for the .42-caliber pistol in his car – were sent back to jail to await trial.This is the changing face of American jurisprudence, where releasing a defendant from jail is not based on how much money he or she can pay. The movement stands on the notion that cash bail punishes the poor, who end up spending more time behind bars than those with the means to pay for their release.Washington, D.C., eliminated bail two decades ago, and other jurisdictions may soon follow – either by choice or as a result of federal lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of incarcerating poor defendants who cannot afford bail.The bail system in Delaware is now under scrutiny as Delaware's Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr. shines a light on the disproportionate number of African-Americans incarcerated and Gov. Jack Markell calls for criminal justice reform while examining ways to reduce prison overcrowding."It's not working when a single mom gets stuck in detention because she can't come up with a hundred bucks and has little to no family support, but a dangerous drug dealer can get his minions to bail him out," Markell said during a speech on criminal justice reform Thursday in New Orleans. "Our bail process needs to change, and it can be done, but only if we're cognizant of the full extent to which everyone involved in our criminal Continue Reading

Grisly evidence leads to bail bondsman’s arrest in killing of 2 teens

Blood pooled on the stoop of Kevin Watkins' Eastside home. It was splashed on the grass and leaves, trailing into the backyard, court documents say.There was blood on the seats of the 49-year-old man's SUV. A plastic rake caked with blood was left behind trash cans. A bloody wad of duct tape was crumpled inside the trash cans, the documents say, along with bleach and a rope.In the front yard, investigators found brain matter spattered near the sidewalk, a probable cause affidavit says.And then police found a fingertip.Watkins, an Indianapolis bounty hunter who owns Watkins Bail Bonds in the 6000 block of Massachusetts Avenue, is being held on two counts of murder in connection with the disappearance of Dionne Williams, 16, and Timmee Jackson, 15, on Christmas Eve.The teens' deaths bring the total number of criminal homicides investigated by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department this year to 144, making this the city's deadliest year on record. The previous record for criminal homicides was 143 in 1998.Court documents describe the grisly scenes at Watkins' home in the 5900 block of East 23rd Street and at his bail bond business, where technicians found more blood, more brain matter and more bone fragments.What investigators have not yet found, however, are the bodies of the two teenagers.Police think the teenagers are dead, IMPD Lt. Richard Riddle said, but authorities won't know for sure that the blood belongs to the boys until police receive the results of lab tests.Williams and Jackson were spending time with friends at their homes in Watkins' neighborhood on Christmas Eve, their parents and friends told police.Williams realized he left his cellphone at the home of a friend who lived about 100 feet from Watkins, the probable cause affidavit says. To be safe, Jackson accompanied Williams to retrieve his phone, knowing the teenager was having problems with Watkins.Watkins thought Continue Reading

O.J. Simpson court appearance may hold surprises, says bail bondsman

LAS VEGAS - O.J. Simpson needs another get-out-of-jail card. The former football star and celebrity criminal defendant is due in a Nevada court Wednesday to answer charges he violated terms of his bail by attempting to contact a co-defendant in his armed robbery case. Simpson's former bail bondsman, who brought him back from Miami to jail in Las Vegas on Friday, was set to testify. He told The Associated Press that the bail revocation hearing may bring some surprises. "I think there are a lot of things that are going to come out today," said Miguel Pereira, the owner of "You Ring We Spring" bail bonds in North Las Vegas. He declined to provide specifics. Simpson's lawyer, Gabriel Grasso, filed a written reply late Tuesday urging a judge to reject Clark County District Attorney David Roger's effort to have Simpson jailed without bail until his scheduled trial April 7. "It says O.J. Simpson in no way violated any conditions of his release," Grasso said of the three-page document. Grasso declined further comment until the hearing, set before the trial judge, Clark County District Court Judge Jackie Glass. Roger's motion also alleges Simpson "committed new crimes," but does not elaborate. Dan Kulin, a spokesman for Roger, declined to say whether new charges would be filed against Simpson. Simpson, 60, will appear in court after spending five nights and four days at the Clark County jail, where police said he had been cooperative after arriving late Friday from Florida in the custody of Pereira. Legal experts say the judge probably will allow Simpson another chance at bail because he is not facing a capital murder charge. Simpson might get a stern rebuke and the judge could raise the bail amount if she agrees that Simpson violated a court order not to try to contact his co-defendants. "A person is entitled to bail under the Nevada Constitution," said Tom Pitaro, a defense lawyer and adjunct professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Boyd Continue Reading


BARRY BONDS' personal trainer was released on bond yesterday after a federal judge agreed that an appeals court and the government had missed a deadline that would have kept him in jail. Greg Anderson's lawyer, Mark Geragos, picked him up at a federal prison in Dublin, Calif., and dropped him at his home near San Francisco. Anderson, imprisoned on contempt charges for refusing to testify before a grand jury looking into possible tax evasion and perjury charges against Bonds, will remain free while his appeal works its way through the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a ruling that could come any day. U.S. District Judge William Alsup ordered Anderson freed on his own recognizance, as directed by the Ninth Circuit on Wednesday, after the appeals court said Alsup's ruling on one issue in the case was not clear enough. "This snafu has arisen by an apparent failure by the court to be clear of its findings," Alsup said, adding that prosecutors bore some responsibility for not immediately providing the documents needed to support his previous contempt ruling. Federal law entitles a witness who is jailed for contempt to be released on bail if the contempt ruling is not upheld within 30 days. All but one count of Anderson's appeal were dismissed last week but the appeals court returned the case to Alsup for further findings on the issue - whether a conversation in which Anderson allegedly discusses giving steroids to Bonds was taped illegally, which Geragos has asserted. Geragos has argued that the tape, which he and Anderson never have heard, was illegally used to create a case against Anderson. The government has argued that its investigation and prosecution of Anderson was not based on the tape. Geragos said Anderson was relieved to be home. "I think he's going to take it one day at a time," Geragos said. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading