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U.S. Defense Lawyers Come Down Hard in Favor of Pretrial Release

August 8th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has recently passed a resolution that strongly favors pretrial release alternatives to the conventional bail system that operates in many states, California prominently among them, with high jail populations the result.

Here’s the opening statement of their resolution:

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers believes pretrial liberty must be the norm and detention prior to trial the carefully limited exception.1 “Unless [an accused’s] right to bail before trial is preserved, the presumption of innocence, secured only after centuries of struggle would lose its meaning.”

To put it in plainer terms, the NACDL believes that most people who have not been accused of serious crimes should be able to get out before trial. Getting out should be the norm, say the PDs. Keeping people locked up before their cases get sentenced or go to trial, should be the exception.

However, particularly in big cities—most notably Los Angeles—the opposite is true. Bails are now set so high that a large percentage of people cannot afford the 10 percent, nonrefundable fee that a bondsman charges, much less the bail itself, which either must be paid, or one must put up as collateral something of equal or greater value, like a house or some other asset.

As for the worry that most people won’t show up for trial without a hefty bail, studies suggest otherwise.

Timothy Murray, the executive director of the Pretrial Justice Institute, explains in a May interview with State Legislatures Magasine.

Several years ago the National Institute of Justice, (NIJ), the research arm of the Justice Department, conducted a controlled experiment testing the efficacy of supervised pretrial release. (Supervised pretrial release accountably monitors pretrial defendants in the community using an array of supervision conditions designed to minimize failure to appear in court and re-offending.)

“NIJ’s experiment showed conclusively that randomly assigned defendants who were placed into supervision had better outcomes than those who were released on financial bonds.

“Other studies have shown the costs of supervised pretrial release averages is less than $10 per day, a fraction of the cost of housing, feeding and medical care required for defendants in local jails.”

Naturally the bail bond industry is less than thrilled at the thought of all that income flying out the door.

In the same article, Dennis Bartlett of the American Bail Coalition explains why he believes the existing bail system is better (so if you click through, read both POVs).

In his testimony before the jails commission, Sheriff Lee Baca—to his credit —brought up pretrial release as part of his hoped for reforms that will lower the jail population and, I think, in general he’s for it, if an adequate tool for assessing who is eligible for PTR and, if so, what form.

Whether he will make it enough of a priority to get it done, remains to be seen.

But the sheriff should be commend for taking some first steps.

Photo by WitnessLA

Posted in jail, LA County Jail, pretrial detention/release, Sheriff Lee Baca | 3 Comments »

3 Responses

  1. bb Says:

    these programs are represented in less than 10% of all the ciminal court systems in america. why – because its so evident that defense lawyers have a self serving greedy conflict of interest. you see, if they can get the taxpayer to fund the release through a gov’t pretrial release program, then the bail deposit funds that are not spent on bail, can be exploited by the lawyers. this new campaign by pretrial release proponents is redundant – these folks have been shaking this tree since the 1960′s, with little to show for it. most people in america despise lawyers, especially tax paying people, and see that this is just another scheme for the lawyers to plunder the taxpayer. if they cared about justice, they would be hammering the judges to lower the ridiculously high bail amounts that they spew out every day in the courts. focus on the judges, they are the ones who control who stays in jail, and for how long. its the judges stupid.

  2. prophet mo teff Says:

    Should Sheriff Lee Baca be commended for offering meager lip service to the concept of reforming the countie’s pre-trial bail routine.

    The Sheriff Lee Baca County Jail is a linchpin of the for-profit Sheriff Baca system.

    The system relies on horror stories and hysteria – because many arrestees can put together the assets to purchase bail sponsored through a bondsman.

    Even those who can post bail must feel sufficiently insecure about entering custody at MCJ in order to forfeit their entire savings or funds saved for a long-awaited family vacation or jrs’ piano lessons.

    Sheriff Baca deserves neither credit nor respect nor any courtesy, at this point. Respect the office, respect the title – but this man deserves no respect until he truly changes his stripes, don’t hold your breath.

    I will give Sheriff Baca credit when he shuts down the Lancaster lock-up shake down. An over-charged defendant is booked into custody by Lancaster sheriff station.

    The phone is pushed into the cage. there is one phone number on the phone – Aladdin Bail Bonds.

    If our frightened and confused custody calls that number – he will be greeted by a friendly and helpful salesperson.
    that salesperson just needs contact info for friends and family who might help with paying for bail.

    The bail bond salesman then begins cold-calling the contacts. He especially likes elderly parents with equity in their home. He can nurture their unrealistic fears about the dangers of a few nights in lock-up.

    The bond salesman takes a paniced parent, an overcharged high bail arrestee and stirs the soup into a fat commission to bond out a custody who is hours away from being O.R.d at arraignment.

    So will Sheriff Lee Baca be at the Lancaster lock-up on Monday morning?

    Will he transfer all of the crooked jail personnel to duty picking up trash at the Compton courthouse?

    Will he report the bondsman to the state for removal of their licensing?

    Most importantly, will Sheriff Lee Baca march down to Alladin and demand all the promissory notes on file from elderly homeowners who were extorted and tear them to shreds?

  3. prophet mo teff Says:

    The problem is not lawyers who want to convert bail funds into fee income from defendants.

    The problem is not judges who set ridiculously high bail.

    The problem is Poverty and Ignorance and the Los Angeles County District Attorney.

    how much bail do you think a wino can afford after he is arrested for open container, public intoxication, etc?

    Let’s give him a break – fifty dollar bail. The wino will stay locked up until trial – at which point he has served the maximum sentence and then some, because he ain’t got nobody that has fifty bucks.

    Next to poverty comes ignorance.

    I have spent a morning on the bus to Superior Court on Grand st. after five days and four nights at the LAPD Inn. The custody lock-up at the court is primarily migrant latino menial working class.

    There is a language gap and a knowledge gap. Most of these guys think this is their trial, they are ready to plead guilty to DUI, etc. right now and begin their sentence.

    The P.D. is overwhelmed si no conoces espanol.

    I was desperately trying to prepare these guys for arraignment. Look here amigos, tell the judge “not guilty”. Then go home and talk it over with your esposa and los hijos how to handle the situation.

    When the D.A. insists on bail, you must respond mis amigos. Explain to the judge – you need to go home and get back to work, so you won’t lose your job and so your kids can go to school and so your family won’t become homeless after they get evicted in 30 days.

    And what is the problem with the D.A. – don’t they see the need to utilize resources efficiently?

    Why does the D.A. always argue for bail?

    Why does the D.A always oppose the judge to grant release of custody on own recognizance with promise to appear?

    Why can’t the D.A. ever say:

    “O.R. that sounds about right, we have no problem with O.R., your honor. Next!”

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