New Texas group opposes bipartisan efforts to end cash bail

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A new Texas nonprofit promoting crime victims' rights is opposing bipartisan efforts to end cash bail systems that have gained traction around the country — hitting back at one of the few issues that unified powerful advocates on both the right and left. Formally kicking off Thursday, the Texas Alliance for Safe Communities said it wants to strengthen public safety and curb violent crime by pushing in the Republican-controlled Legislature and beyond for criminal justice system accountability while preserving "judicial discretion." The group hopes to halt bail system overhauls favoring assessments of defendants' danger to the public. Supporters of such changes say defendants deemed little risk should be eligible to be released from jail on "unsecured" bonds that don't require cash payments — rather than traditional, cash bond systems where defendants forfeit payments if they fail to show up in court. "Texas communities are under assault by activist judges and misguided bureaucrats determined to let violent criminals get out of jail free," said Mark Miner, who was spokesman for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry's 2012 presidential campaign and now holds the same role for the alliance. Similar groups defending cash bonds have popped up in other states and are often sponsored by bail bond companies worried about losing business. Miner said bail bond interests "are assisting with funding as the group is beginning." He said two of its five founding board members have links to the industry. "They are part of the organization, but they're not the only part," Miner said of bail bond interests, adding that the alliance expects to attract members of other victims' groups, police organizations and "many ordinary citizens." Bail system reform has been approved in New Jersey and New Mexico, and discussed in California, Florida and elsewhere. It's been applauded by conservatives anxious to reduce prison costs, like the powerful Austin think tank Continue Reading

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

Bail on the bail bond industry

A wildly lucrative and largely unaccountable private industry extracts millions of dollars each year from the most marginalized communities in New York City, by leeching off the criminal justice system and preying on families when they are at their most vulnerable. The commercial bail bonds industry siphoned as much as $20 million in premiums in 2016 from predominantly low-income communities of color, finds a new report from the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, a non-profit that pays bail for people accused of low-level crimes. The exploitation has turned so intolerable that last week New York State’s top court ruled illegal a common industry practice: retaining bond premiums even in cases in which the judge refuses to actually release the defendant from jail. Ira Judelson, the bondsman in the case, argued in his defense that he had done this in hundreds of cases and that it was, in fact, an industry norm. While the ruling — the first ever on the bail industry from the state Court of Appeals — may eventually protect consumers from this particular harm, the industry is rife with other predatory practices that put consumers at risk. The commercial bail bonds industry, banned globally in all countries except the U.S. and the Philippines, is a booming, $14 billion a year business nationwide. In 2016, roughly 12,000 bail bonds were executed in courts in New York City, requiring families to pay millions in upfront premiums, collateral and illegal fees. The industry is so poorly regulated that no one in New York collects an accurate estimate of these numbers, including the Department of Financial Services, the state agency responsible for oversight. The purpose of bail is to allow presumptively innocent people to be free during the pendency of a criminal case. If bail is set, New York’s laws provide judges with nine different types. Besides cash, commercial bail bonds are one of the most prevalent options judges allow, Continue Reading

Dog the Bounty Hunter joins bail reform lawsuit against Chris Christie

Reality TV star Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman joined a federal lawsuit against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, alleging that a bail reform initiative led to the shooting death of a man in April. Chapman slammed the state's "dangerous, fake reform" during a Monday press conference outside of the U.S. District Court building in Trenton while standing beside June Rodgers, the lead plaintiff in the case whose 26-year-old son, Christian, was killed in a Vineland shooting. "Christie should be ashamed of himself," Chapman said at the conference. "The governor needs to know that the eyes of every American who loves their family and wants to preserve law and order are on him right now." Jules Black, 30, was charged in Rodgers’ murder, just days after he was arrested on felony gun charges and was released from jail under the state's new bail reform law. The law eliminated cash bails and, instead, judges are now using a risk assessment system when deciding if they should release defendants. The lawsuit is against Christie, state Attorney General Christopher Porrino and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation — the organization that created the risk assessment system for the state. It says that they allegedly "acted with a willful and conscience (sic) indifference to the laws that protect" the rights of the Rodgers family and should now pay damages. "Make no mistake that the state of New Jersey, that Attorney General Porrino, that Governor Christie, that the Laura and John Arnold Foundation are Christian's killers as well," the president and CEO of Nexus Services, Inc., Mike Donovan, said at the conference. Nexus is a for-profit bail services group and is funding the Rodgers family's lawsuit through their own company-sponsored law firm, Nexus Caridades, Inc. New Jersey State's bail reform law, which was approved in 2014, introduced the new risk assessment tool now used by judges. The system takes into consideration a Continue Reading

Delaware inches forward on bail reform

Delaware is on the verge of changing its bail system in a way that would alter – and in some cases eliminate – the price tag on freedom for those awaiting trial.That price this past week in Delaware was $105,800 cash for a man accused of stealing cigarettes from nine convenience stores, $45,000 cash for a man accused of a pocket-knife stabbing and $6,100 unsecured bail for a teen who police say was caught with 600 grams of marijuana.Legislation that could be proposed this spring would shift the presumption away from always using cash."The old way of thinking was there was a price tag on every case," said Thomas Foley, a Wilmington lawyer working on the legislation. "That is so antiquated."Instead, defendants who are found not to be a danger to the community or a flight risk would avoid prison if they comply with a judge's conditions. While cash bail could still be one choice for judges, others could range from a defendant promising to hold a job, check-in weekly with a drug counselor or wear a GPS ankle monitor."Under our current legislation, my job is to set bond in an amount, and in a very large number of cases, money doesn't do anything to protect the public or to ensure that a person will show up," said Chief Magistrate Alan Davis, who heads the Justice of the Peace Courts, where bail is initially set for defendants in Delaware. "Other conditions could favorably do that."This changing mentality among judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and others is sweeping the nation. It stands on the premise that cash bail punishes the poor and doesn't make society safer because the poor end up spending more time behind bars than those who may be a danger to the community but can afford to pay for release.The News Journal observed the court system in Washington, D.C., where cash bail is never used to determine whether a defendant should be released. A November 2015 story looked at whether a similar 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

Sicklerville man arrested in bar fight takes on bail system

 TRENTON - A Dallas Cowboys fan accused of assault in a bar fight after an argument about the Philadelphia Eagles filed a federal lawsuit this week targeting New Jersey’s new bail system.Brittan Holland’s lawsuit, which also includes a bail bonds company, argues that it’s unfair that the Sicklerville man has been given home detention and required to wear an electronic monitor, rather than straight cash bail.Lexington National Insurance Co. is also part of the lawsuit against the state attorney general and Camden County’s prosecutor; the suit seeks class-action status. It was brought by Washington-based Kirkland & Ellis, and the suit is led by former George W. Bush administration Solicitor General Paul Clement.The suit says that thousands of others are being subjected to “similar life-altering, liberty-restricting conditions without ever receiving the option of bail” and the reform efforts are also harming bail bonds companies.The bail reforms were enacted Jan. 1 as a way to keep violent offenders detained until trial while providing poor, low-level defendants the opportunity to be freed. Aside from arguments from bail bond companies and some defendants, lawmakers and law enforcement officials have complained that it’s led to some people being quickly released because they weren’t deemed a threat, only to be re-arrested on new charge. More: SJ dad, son face penalties in Eagles bar fight More: Thieves ransack several Evesham businesses in single night Attorney General Christopher Porrino defended the state’s bail reform effort, arguing that it’s meeting the goal of protecting the community by detaining dangerous defendants without bail and “minimizing pretrial incarceration of low-risk, indigent defendants.”“We will continue to work with stakeholders across the criminal justice system to ensure the effective ongoing implementation of the new system,” Continue Reading

PD: Man who threatened FRCC posts bond, prompts lockout

Final update: 4:30 p.m.: The man previously accused of threatening to burn down a building on a college campus in Fort Collins posted bond on Saturday morning and allegedly drove past the school from which he was banned, violating bond and prompting an afternoon lockout at Front Range Community College facilities across Colorado.David Moscow, 29, was initially arrested on Monday after a psychologist reported that he was making threats about shooting a security guard and burning down a building at FRCC in Fort Collins if he wasn’t re-admitted as a student. While he was on a 72-hour hold, investigators searched his home and vehicle and located an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a Glock .40-caliber handgun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, arrest documents show.As a convicted felon, Moscow was barred from possessing weapons. Officers also found hydrocodone pills for which Moscow lacked a prescription as well as amphetamines, court records show.Moscow was jailed on Monday, but he posted his $37,500 cash bond on Saturday morning.He was issued an ankle monitor that was programmed to alert law enforcement any time he came within 50 yards of a Front Range site in the state. The system has campuses in Fort Collins, Longmont and Westminster, among others.Police were notified at 12:30 p.m. Saturday that Moscow had driven past FRCC in Fort Collins, violating the boundary from which he was barred under bond rules, said Kate Kimble, Fort Collins police spokeswoman.She added that he did not actually stop at or enter the property.Officers on Saturday worked with security at the Fort Collins campus, and the decision came about 1 p.m. to issue a “lockout” order across the entire FRCC system. The order told anyone on campus to stay inside and away from doors and windows — individuals not on campus were advised to stay away until instructed otherwise.The order came at a time when the Fort Collins arm of the college system, 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