Cities Across America are Voting To Overhaul Municipal Court Bail System 

Feb 01,2017 / Bail Bond Laws

One neighborhood at a time, the streetlight fixtures of the city of Birmingham are being replaced. Through a partnership with Alabama Power, there have been nearly 6.700 fixtures upgraded in the communities of Birmingham. It was last April when the partnership was announced and as it was concluded by “Brighter Birmingham”, there will be about 30,000 light fixtures to be upgraded in the Magic City.

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An article by alabamanewscenter.com states that “Some 99 neighborhoods will reap the benefits of these improvements, which include better lighting quality, greater energy efficiency and reduced maintenance.

City leaders and law enforcement officers point to another possible benefit – reduced crime – since the LED lights more accurately display colors and objects.”

According to the Municipal Lighting account manager, Terrance Moultrie, “We initially worked with the city to identify high-crime areas across the city of Birmingham. We installed LED lights in these areas first. We then moved into the neighborhoods and are on schedule to complete this project by December of 2018.”

This is no doubt, one great improvement not only for the city’s appearance especially at night, but also in terms of the city’s crime-fighting crusade. Having bright lights in high-crime areas can greatly reduce the occurrence of crime, if not totally stop it. It is common knowledge that most criminals are more confident to commit crimes in the dark.

When it comes to upgrades and reforms, one of the most talked-about is the issue about the cash-bail system. In fact, some cities are now implementing a new and improved bail system.

The reform will apply to both the municipal and traffic courts. This ordinance, which was introduced by Council member Susan Guidry in September, was established in order to tackle various arguments and concerns among legal and civil rights groups saying that the bail system for minor offenses existing is very unfair and punishes the poor defendants only. Now, Municipal court judges are free to set bail ranging from $150 for minor offenses and for serious ones about $2,500. Of the 35 different offenses handled at the court, few prisoners can be automatically released without bail.

In a recent article by wwltv.com“After a tie vote in September, the City Council unanimously approved a bail reform ordinance Thursday during a city council meeting.”

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Initially, the article states that, “In September, Guidry proposed expanding automatic release to cover nearly all municipal offenses, except arrests for domestic violence, battery and carrying an illegal weapon. In those instances, judges would evaluate the case within 24 hours and set a bail amount after taking into account a defendant’s ability to pay.”

There were a few concerns about the plan from Guidry’s colleagues as well as the municipal court judges and bail bondsmen. Some worries, according to the article are that “automatic release rules could free repeat offenders who might then commit the same crimes again. Others argued there could be an increase in offenders skipping trial dates.”

This resulted to a 2-2 deadlock which led Guidry to promise a plan revision next time.

And so, according to the article, “The version unanimously approved Thursday was agreed upon after talks among council members, judges and law enforcement officials, Guidry said. It applies distinct bail rules to several groups of arrestees, depending on their background and the offense they are accused of committing.”

To be more specific, the article states that “Those arrested on counts of animal cruelty, assault, criminal trespassing, disturbing the peace and criminal property damage can be immediately freed but must appear in court within 24 hours. 

There will be special rules for repeat offenders and no-shows. If someone awaiting trial is arrested and detained on another charge or doesn’t show up for a scheduled court date on the initial charge, they will have to stay in jail — once in custody — until a hearing. Repeat no-shows could be subject to bail.”

Furthermore, the article states that “Special conditions also apply to defendants who are deemed to pose a flight risk or imminent danger to someone else. In those cases, a judge must impose “the least restrictive, non-financial” release conditions, such as a peace bond or stay-away order, the law states. A judge can’t attach a fine to that order if a defendant does not have the money to pay it.

Even defendants in that group who do have the cash will face no more than a $2,500 bail amount. And any bail schedule the judges set must be consistent with state law, Williams said.”

Also, according to Guidry, this reform is expected to impact taxpayers positively. “I think this will tremendously benefit the taxpayers of New Orleans,” she said. “We’ll no longer be paying to make people sit in jail, for crimes they’ve not yet been convicted of.”

Whether the upgrades and reforms made are pertaining to a city’s crime fighting campaign or on the improvement of its justice system, it should definitely benefit taxpayers because they deserve to live in a safe community that fairly serves justice for all.

 

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Many Claim the Current Bail and Judicial System Is Unfair

Jan 11,2017 / Bail Bond Laws

A bail reform hearing lasted for six hours because dozens of people shared their testimonies and arguments about the current bail system in America. This made the Court of Appeals decide to postpone the voting for revisions until February instead. The revisions suggested that judges and court commissioners should consider the requirement of bail as a last option and that the financial means of the defendant should also be considered. There was already a previous motion for the changes to be adopted but it failed when it only got three votes out of seven judges.

An article by baltimoresun.com states that “Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder joined Maryland’s top attorney and judges Thursday in urging the state’s highest court to adopt new rules designed to prevent people who have been arrested from languishing in jail because they are unable to afford bail.”

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Under President Barack Obama, Holder served as attorney general. This was from 2009 to 2015. He has been an advocate of bail reform in the country.  The article states that Holder claims “Maryland’s pretrial system punishes low-income defendants, rewards wealthier defendants and disproportionately detains racial minorities.” According to him, this bail system is “failing to advance the interest of safety.”

Additionally, the article states that, “Critics of the bail system say too many people are detained without being found guilty because they’re given a bail that they can’t pay. The purpose of bail is not to hold someone, but to ensure appearance in court. Judges can order someone held without bond if they believe they are dangerous or a flight risk.

Others are held for weeks or months, and may plead guilty simply to achieve release.”

According to Maryland Attorney General Brian e. Frosh, “People should not be held in jail because they’re poor,”  He told the judges that “dangerous people should be detained pending trial. The proposed rule, I believe, is consistent with both of those principles.”

Among the judges who agreed to pass the new rule was Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera. Even so, the article states that “others expressed concerns that jurisdictions across the state were not prepared to supervise an increase in people who are released under court-mandated conditions.”

The article states that “Former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement led those speaking out against the change, saying the bail system is “plainly constitutional” and should be an option for those seeking release.”

Clement, who claims to represent Lexington National Insurance Company at the hearing, said that “If we’re concerned about unnecessary detention, we should keep a robust bond industry available.”

Read more…

It is a good thing that the court is willing to discuss bail reform propositions with bail system opponents for the purpose of improving justice system in the city fairly. As a matter of fact, in the name of crime and justice, it is not only the bail system that is being looked at for changes and improvement, but also the judicial system when dealing with crime charges and sentences.

There are also bills created for the purpose of ending Alabama’s current court practice where judges are allowed to impose death sentences. This is even if it is against the recommendations of the jury. A Republican senator and a House of Representatives’ democratic member both submitted bills seeking to take off the ability of the judge to impose death penalty even if jury recommendations is only life imprisonment. This is with regards to capital cases. In fact, Alabama is the last state allowing this judicial practice as the Delaware Supreme Court already forbid this judicial override system for capital cases last August.

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According to an article by weldbham.com, “Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, has filed a bill that ‘would prohibit a court from overriding a verdict by a jury in a capital case,’ while Representative Terry England, D-Tuscaloosa, filed House Bill 32 to ‘require a verdict of death to be based on a unanimous vote of the jury and would prohibit a court from overriding a verdict by a jury in a capital case.’”

As a matter of fact, the article states that “In March, Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Tracie Todd issued a judicial order declaring that it’s unconstitutional for Alabama to allow judicial override.”

According to Todd, “The practice of overriding a jury’s advisory verdict of life without the possibility of parole for the imposition of capital punishment in Alabama has become questionably prevalent and suspiciously routine.”

She also added that “Alabama is now the only state where judges are even permitted to override jury verdicts of life to impose the death penalty. Because judges in Alabama are elected, their decisions on such cases are politicized.”

The article also states that “In her order, Todd also found that ‘Jefferson County leads the state in total death sentences resulting from judicial overrides,’” with 17 such sentences between 1976 and 2011. A report released in October by Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project made similar criticisms of how capital cases are resolved in Jefferson County. The project found that since 2006, Jefferson County trial judges overruled jury recommendations of life imprisonment and imposed capital punishment in 44 percent of capital case verdicts.”

Moreover, the article states that “Even if Brewbaker and England’s bills do not pass, however, Alabama’s allowance of judicial override in capital cases will almost certainly be challenged in court.”

Whether it is bail reform or judicial override issues, both the court and the state legislatures should carefully think and evaluate the current systems they have as well as the suggested revisions for them, in order to come up with a fair decision that will serve justice for all.

 

 
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Are New Bail Reform Laws Good or Bad For Society?

Jan 04,2017 / Bail Bond Laws

Atlantic City Boardwalk Bail Bonds, owned by Rosie Imperiale has been in the bail bond business for 17 years already. Now, there will be major changes to the business as well as to the criminal justice system with the bail reform law expected to come into effect on January 1. Most of the cases will see alleged offenders kept in jail awaiting their trials or be freed on a court summons.

According to an article by the pressofatlanticcity.com, “Under the new system, Superior Courts can set bail for someone who fails to appear in court for a complaint summons. Those arrested on a summons will be taken to a police station, booked, issued charges and released pending their court dates. 

Those arrested on a complaint warrant will be taken to the county jail for as long as 48 hours until a decision is made on whether they will be kept or released. Bail could still be an option for these people if set by a judge, but that scenario is unlikely.”

According to Imperiale, who owned Boardwalk Bail Bonds for 17 years, “The reform is significantly going to affect my business, there’s no doubt about it,” she said. She also added that she may relocate her building to a smaller location next year. “As I understand there are still going to be bail bonds out there, but they’re probably not good ones to do.”

Additionally, the article also states that “A big issue bail bond companies see with the reforms is the possibility of people skipping their court dates. Imperiale said the new law cuts out a layer of monitoring between the courts and the alleged offenders. But they don’t set up well for the bail bond business.”

Read the entire story here — pressofatlanticcity.com.

It is important to understand that when it comes to fighting crime and violence and improving the justice system, sacrifices must be made. Bail bond businesses may be threatened by new bail reforms this year. But, if these reforms can help the community fight crime and violence by letting offenders realize they cannot just get away with what they did by setting bail, then these reforms can actually be helpful in reducing the number of criminal offenders. This is considering the fact that most cities nowadays, like Birmingham, had a truly alarming crime rate during the year 2016.

For the first time in 10 years, Birmingham got a triple-digit homicide tally, which made the year 2016 such a bloodshed for the city. There were a total of 104 homicides noted and authorities marked 92 of them as criminal. From 144, the whole of Jefferson County saw an increase in homicides to 151.


 
In a recent article by al.com, A.C. Roper, Birmingham police chief said that“We are extremely disappointed with the increase in homicides in our city this year. It is extremely sad, but we are wrestling with this issue across the nation,” He also added that, “The bottom line is these crimes primarily involve people who know each other and are quite often involved in illegal drug activity or some other risky lifestyle choice.”

More specifically, the article states that “Of the 104 homicides in Birmingham, 10 have been ruled justifiable and two were officer-involved shootings by outside law enforcement agencies – the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and the Irondale Police Department. Birmingham police do not count homicides ruled justifiable in their year-end tally because they only have to include criminal homicides in what they turn in to the FBI each year.”

Mike Hale, Jefferson County sheriff said that “We believe the Metro Area Crime Center recently kicked off where area agencies have joined together to fight crime has a chance to impact violent crime in every jurisdiction,” He also added, “We will be watching that closely. That’s the goal. Hopefully we can keep these numbers trending down.  We will work hard for that and our prayers will be with those that are lost and their families.”

According to the article, “The sheriff said they are constantly looking at crime    trends, new strategies and technology to embrace that they believe will benefit our communities.”

On the other hand, police chief Roper said he is also looking forward to a more pleasant 2017, saying that “Our city has experienced good success lowering our homicide rate in the past,” and adding that, “I believe we can do it again with community support. It’s not easy but our families deserve it.”

It is easy to understand the concerns of bail bondsmen regarding the effects of new bail reforms to their business. However, if the city officials believe these reforms can also make positive changes to the justice system and contribute to a lesser crime rate for 2017, then it may be worth a try.

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