Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Deposit Bail: A house of cards built on sand

Early this past week a bill was introduced in the State Legislature entitled Concerning the establishment of an Alternative Bond Program; A.K.A. SB 11-186.  This bill provides that a judicial district may establish a deposit bail bond program that would work as follows: A judge would set the amount and type of bail that a defendant had to post. The new alternative bond would be posted directly to the court; not through a bail agent, and would be administered by the pretrial services agency. The bill stipulates that 50% of the money would go toward the administration of the program and the other 50% would be available to be returned to the defendant unless there are court costs, fines or restitution to be paid. Make no mistake about it, little will ever be returned to a defendant as there are almost always court costs and fines assessed.
A hearing was conducted before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the room was so full of interested citizens that the meeting had to be moved the the old Supreme Court room. At one point, committee Chair, Senator Morgan Carroll asked all who opposed the bill to stand. Almost all stood. Opponents and proponents had the opportunity to testify. Bail agents said the bill would put them out of business. Insurance companies said the they would leave the state. Proponents of the bill testified that would not happen.
Interesting. Small business owners said that they would go out of business. Companies that insure the small businesses said that they would leave the state. However, government lawyers said that would not be the case. Who knows more about whether they can remain in business than the small business owner and the companies that work with them?
The proponents also said that the bill would increase public safety. This will be accomplished by “monitoring” the defendants more closely than bail agents do. What this really means is that people on deposit bonds who are supervised by pretrial services will be forced to pay for services such as meetings, random blood and/urine tests for alcohol and other substances. These are people that have yet to be convicted.
Denver Post columnist, Bill Johnson wrote and article Switch in bail-bond rules would ensure less safety calling this bill “one of the most appalling pieces of legislation of the session.”  ”…people basically will have to wear the scarlet letter jewelry of the convicted, and undergo and pay for classes and tests despite being convicted of absolutely nothing…SB 186 is nothing more than a desperate money grab by a hopelessly cash-strapped state government that for some reason now believes it can do a job that is being effectively handled by private companies and citizens.”
Despite the overwhelming opposition in the room, the bill made it through the committee by a vote of 6 to 2. Does government really listen to the people anymore?

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