Archive for Thursday, January 25, 2007

Is it cheaper to be a criminal here?

Bond system under scrutiny

January 25, 2007

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For those trying to bond out of Douglas County Jail, freedom often comes cheaper than in other parts of the state.

A Journal-World review of suggested bond amounts that criminal suspects have to pay is often less in Douglas County than for similar crimes elsewhere.

Critics of the low bonds say the smaller amount some have to pay to get out of jail leads to more work for police and prosecutors, and could result in more people skipping court dates.

"It sure seems to me like crime is cheaper here," District Attorney Charles Branson said. "I think our bond schedule needs to be re-evaluated."

Branson said that in his experience, some offenders commit crimes while out on bond - crimes that may not be committed if bonds were higher.

Plus, some criminal cases can be delayed if a person does not have the financial incentive to appear for his or her court date.

"Would a higher bond have prevented that? Maybe," Branson said. "The system has really not held the bad guy accountable."

Douglas County judges set bond amounts for most major crimes on a case-by-case basis - including crimes against people, such as aggravated assault, murder, crimes against children and others. But many misdemeanors and felonies have "normal bail amounts" that judges use as a guide when deciding how much a person should pay to be released from jail before trial.

Judges and Douglas County Jail officials think the bond costs are appropriate, keeping jail overcrowding under control and giving offenders the chance to get out of jail for minor crimes.

Records show bond costs here are often lower than in other counties in the area and around the state.

For example:

¢ Bail for criminal damage to property less than $500 - a common crime often associated with attempted burglaries - is suggested at $1,000 in Shawnee County, the 3rd Judicial District. In Jefferson County, bond for a similar crime is set at $500.

In Douglas County, the same crime costs suspects only $250 to leave jail, records show.

¢ People who drive while intoxicated in Douglas County pay $250 to get out of jail for a first offense. In other counties, the total can be more than twice as high - including paying $3,000 in Sedgwick County.

¢ Assault suspects pay between $100 and $150 to leave jail in Douglas County, while the same suspects in Jefferson and Shawnee counties could pay as much as $1,000.

Lawrence assault suspects are often arrested under a municipal statute that mirrors the state charge - compared with other areas that don't have a municipal assault charge.

Ken Massey, undersheriff in charge of Douglas County Jail, said that sometimes comparing different charges is like "comparing apples to oranges."

But even when statutes do match up, some districts the Journal-World reviewed asked for bonds that did not have to be paid at the time a person was released from jail.

For example, an arrest for theft of less than $500 in Douglas County will cost a person $500 to get out of jail. The same arrest in both Sedgwick and Shawnee counties requires $1,000 bonds, but Sedgwick asks only that the people pay the money if they don't show up for court.

Steve Robson from Ace Bail Bonds, 2400 Franklin Road, said that scheduled bonds here can be quite a bit less than in surrounding areas.

Robson should know. His business depends on bonds, and with 15 bondsmen throughout Kansas, he often sees the difference between counties and districts.

"Some charges are really cheap in Lawrence," he said. "It takes a lot more bonds here to make money."

But even with lower bonds than most other districts in the state, Judge Robert Fairchild said that prosecutors can always ask for a higher bond if they think a suspect is a flight risk or if they have a serious criminal history.

"We'll raise the bond," Fairchild said. "That's all they have to do."

Plus, Fairchild said, judges on duty can set a higher bond when someone is booked into prison.

The current version of the bond schedule was set three years ago after opinions from all six division judges, based on the severity of the crime and whether the offender is likely to be a danger to the community, Fairchild said.

Undersheriff Massey said that the lower bonds help control jail overcrowding because more people are likely to be bonded out.

"I see both sides of the problem," Massey said. "I have no problem keeping bonds where they are."

The jail accepts both cash and credit cards for people to bond out, and Massey said jail administration has considered getting an ATM for the jail's main floor.

Robson and other bail bondsmen were critical of the practice, especially in tandem with the lower bonds. Robson said in some ways it has become too easy and inexpensive to get out of jail.

"I'd like to see them jack those bonds up," Robson said. "People are going in and swiping their credit cards and off they go."

But Sam Fields, a bail bondsman and candidate for City Commission, said that if people want to get out, they'll get out no matter what the bond amounts are.

And as for bond amounts in general, he said he looks at them objectively. After all, it's up to the judges.

"They don't view the bond as a kind of punishment," Fields said. "And I don't think they should."

Comments

Kelly Powell 8 years, 7 months ago

Too many offenders....like drunk college students? No, we need to quit making every action illegal...less laws, less crime.....and instead of jail time for everything, i believe public humiliation punishments would be effective.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 7 months ago

"I'd like to see them jack those bonds up," Robson said. "People are going in and swiping their credit cards and off they go."

Considering he gets to pocket 10% of whatever bonds he supplies, I wonder what his motivation for this statement is.

"I you can't do the time then don't do the crime."

Just because someone is arrested doesn't mean they did the crime. As oldgood noted, the purpose of bail is not to punish someone who has yet to recieve a trial, but to make sure they show up for that trial. If someone is truly dangerous, or a flight risk, the bail can be set to reflect that.

oldgoof 8 years, 7 months ago

The DA should remember that the object of bail is to create a stake large enough to assure the defendant will appear at trial. It is not to punish. The notion of keeping unconvicted people in jail for other reasons is part of the European tradition that our founding fathers wanted to prevent. . Because we have chosen as a society to underfund the courts and adjudication processes, so that trials take so long to conduct should not change this.

Kat Christian 8 years, 7 months ago

Worried about overcrowding the jail? If that is a problem then 1) it says we need some serious law changes in this town, that we are attracting too many offenders; 2) build a bigger jail. I personally feel better that offenders are in jail longer to make the streets safe. I you can't do the time then don't do the crime. I agree with Branson - bails should be higher.

cutny 8 years, 7 months ago

Too much work for police? They seem to have plenty of time on their hands.

Kat Christian 8 years, 7 months ago

Do the research people. You're getting way track. Who cares why the story was published. The fact is we need to do something to curtail crime in this town. I just happen to have been raised on the East coast and believe you me bonds are WAY higher then they are here. Repeat offenders who come to this town I'm sure is laughing at Lawrence. I'm sure most of the offenders are college age students out getting drunk and acting stupid. No we don't need more laws what we need are less bars and more healthy activities for young people. We could use an ice/roller rink in this town. Batting cages for the public not just for the country club set. Go-cart track and whatever activities that young people can get involved in. What else is there to do on a Friday/Saturday night but go to a bar? That equals trouble in itself. I thought our society hasn't gotten caught up with the fact they have to spent more time guiding young people and less taking the easy route by adding more rules. Then again there are the real offenders that need really high bails.

monkeyhawk 8 years, 7 months ago

Another reason why Lawrence is a great place to be a criminal.

When the accused finally get to trial, they are released with little punishment. This is in keeping with the "no judgement" attitude of some on the bench. Homeless setting fires outside a church - poor dude, adult rapists - the 14 year old was a "participant" and the "boys" deserve a second chance, a mother allows abuse and ultimate death of her child - turns into a good witness...

It makes me wonder why we even bother to have or enforce laws to begin with.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 7 months ago

" We could use an ice/roller rink in this town. Batting cages for the public not just for the country club set. Go-cart track and whatever activities that young people can get involved in."

That's the solution-- instead of giving prisoners bail, we'll send them rollerskating.

bd 8 years, 7 months ago

And we wonder why the out of town thugs come here to party and raise hell?????

Sigmund 8 years, 7 months ago

If it is cheaper to be a criminal here in Lawrence than elsewhere in Kansas it is about the only thing I can think of that is. Is it just me or does Lawrence typically

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 7 months ago

" Have an original opinion instead of condemning other people who have the courage to think and speak for themselves..."

Stalking me consumer1?

Not sure why you're complaining, as I've yet to see you do anything that could be described as "thought."

Jamesaust 8 years, 7 months ago

So, to clarify:

this article's premise is that criminals come to Douglas Co. to commit crimes because they know there's a bargain on bonds.

Is this premise sufficiently, obviously stupid, or need I explain more?

grimpeur 8 years, 7 months ago

"It supports the NRA stance that there are enough controls on guns already. The existing laws just need to be enforced...and they are not."

Incorrect. There is nothing in this article, and about the same amount in FBI crime stats nationwide, to support the NRA's stance on gun control laws.

daman 8 years, 7 months ago

Branson is 100% correct on this issue and Massey is wrong I'm sorry to say. Overcrowding is caused in part because people out on bond often do not show up for court and have to be re arrested and placed back in jail with much higher bonds and don't get out pending trial. More importantly though is the fact that when someone is placed on probation and they violate their probation they are arrested, placed in jail pending their hearing, released again, arrested again when they violate their probation. Our jail is in FACT a revolving door for the same offenders. It is a JOKE!!! Higher bonds (not unreasonable though, see Shawnee County), probation when warranted (Douglas County puts everyone on probation) and probation violators need to be incarcerated, not released on bond to be re arrested again. So, low bonds is only part of the problem but the main problem is Douglas County is soft on crime as a whole.

rollcar 8 years, 7 months ago

Can anyone explain to me exactly how bail and/or bonds work? I've never been real clear on that. I assume they get all of the money back once they appear?

rollcar 8 years, 7 months ago

Can anyone explain to me exactly how bail and/or bonds work? I've never been real clear on that. I assume they get all of the money back once they appear?

oldgoof 8 years, 7 months ago

Daman: "Overcrowding is caused in part because people out on bond often do not show up for court and have to be re arrested and placed back in jail with much higher bonds and don't get out pending trial." . Oldgoof: I am not sure I understand your stmt. If they are a flight risk, they are supposed to be in jail, and ideally should not have obtained bond, or had a higher bond in the first place. I do think your stmt points to something I agree with: that too few resources for the courts creates long lag time for prosecutions which does cause jail populations to stack up. . Bonds are to secure the attendance of the accused at trial, not to punish. The reason the LJW picked up this article idea was because of the other article in today's paper....ie. someone violated the law while on bail. SO GET THE OFFENDER TO TRIAL.

oldgoof 8 years, 7 months ago

sunshine: "Do the research people. You're getting way track. . . The fact is we need to do something to curtail crime in this town." . Oldgoof: High bonds do not make a city safe. Back to you: do the research, and don't get off track.

compmd 8 years, 7 months ago

Bail here is too low. In Douglas county, crime does pay. We need to change that.

Moderateguy 8 years, 7 months ago

Build big cheap prisons and jails (feel free to raise my taxes to do it) and make the offenders do the time. Why is that so difficult to accomplish? Since so much crime is due to repeat offenders, the crime rate should plummet. Make prison a place you DO NOT want to spend time. No cable TV, no excercise equipment, bland food etc. Bring back the chain gangs. Oh, and yes, by all means raise the bond amounts significantly.

daman 8 years, 7 months ago

Moderateguy, I agree!!!!

Oldgoof, "GET THEM TO TRIAL" a little difficult when they jump bond. There are speedy trial safeguards in place to "get them to trial" (90 days if in custody, 180 if out). Keep in mind most (90%) of delays in getting these people to trial is caused by the defense, not the State and the Courts are allowing these delays instead of holding their feet to the fire.

oldgoof 8 years, 7 months ago

Moderateguy:"Build big cheap prisons and jails (feel free to raise my taxes to do it)" . Oldgoof: We have. This country has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's prisoners, and rates of increases in incarceration exceed rates of increase in population. But at $15,000-$20,000 a year per person in operational costs, can we really afford this?..........

Daman:1) "a little difficult when they jump bond" and 2) "90% of delays caused by the defense, not the State and the Courts" . oldgoof: I could be educated otherwise, but want to start by knowing this rate of people jumping bail. Do you know Daman? I suggest the rate is rather small when compared to the number of dispositions. . In the speedy trial department, there is blame to go around on all sides, it is not 90% just the defense. Sure, the state has to allow for discovery, pre-trial and associated motions, but the inherit slowness of the court system to accomplish discovery and pre-trial, and actually schedule a trial is Not a defense-sided problem.... it is the system, which I still contend has slowed in large part because of a lack of appropriate resources, both with prosecutors' offices and court resources.

oldgoof 8 years, 7 months ago

Moderateguy:"Oh, and yes, by all means raise the bond amounts significantly." . oldgoof: And I hope you are never wrongly accused or arrested for anything. It does happen you know. I think even "Dog the Bounty Hunter" has learned this, since HE had to post bond to be currently out of jail, being wrongfully accused of a crime, many suggest.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 8 years, 7 months ago

To answer Rollcar's question (Jow do bail bonds work?)

You call the bail bondsman, he.she comes to the jail/you pay 10% of the bond to the bail bondsman/woman. They post the bail bond at the jail. You then are released to show up for your court hearing. You fail to show up, the bail bondsman forfeits the posted bond. The bail bondsman then comes after YOU who posted the bond for the FULL AMOUNT. If you DO show up for court, the bail bondsman keeps your 10% payment as his/her "fee" Great setup for the bail bondsman!

oldgoof 8 years, 7 months ago

frwent: That is if you can find a bondsman to take your case. And if you are a no-show kind of guy, they don't want to mess with you.

budwhysir 8 years, 7 months ago

I think its cheaper not to own a home and depend on the T for transportation. It is also cheaper to not finish the SLT any time soon.

Oh I would also like to say we should have an additional tax on our property tax to pay for affordable housing research

damnocracy 8 years, 7 months ago

Several years ago, maybe 5-6 years ago, I had a discussion with a law enforcement friend from Topeka who admitted that Topeka crimials view Lawrence as an easy mark.

Why? Well, the criminals figured IF they get caught, it was better to get caught in a county with a DA (good ol' Christine Kenney) who desperately tried to up her "conviction" rate by plea-bargaining just about every case that came across the docket--plea-baragining for probation with little-to-no jail time.

A local cop has told me the frustration of seeing people arrested for crimes ride a never-ending merry-go-round of getting arrested and getting out and getting arrested again and getting out, over-and-over.

There are some things people get arrested for that I personally deem trivial (maryjane), but people do get arrested for serious crimes (theft, guns, heavy drugs, abuse, etc.) and it does seem that if one chooses that lifestyle, Lawrence is the place to do it in Northeast Kansas.

I would like to see 10 year statistics showing the conviction rates of various charges for area counties (i.e. Shawnee, Douglas, Johnson, Wyandotte, etc.) and what the results of the convictions were (probation, length of prison sentence, repeat offenders, etc.)

budwhysir 8 years, 7 months ago

I dont know, do we make it cheaper to be a criminal here????

I dont get it

oldgoof 8 years, 7 months ago

damnocracy: "I would like to see 10 year statistics showing the conviction rates of various charges " .. oldgoof agrees. He would like to see more such statistics. But have you tried to get such data (or any data) from police depts? Goof has. He also doesn't believe pleas are necessarily bad, but are absolutely required at high levels because of resource levels. .. Oldgoof tires of the carp about the 'merry-go-round' especially if the argument comes from police, when they haven't walked in the shoes of the prosecutor or courts themselves. It is classic 'blaming the other part of the system.' Oldgoof would also want to see statistics comparing law enforcement expenditure growth compared to courts and prosecutors, because goof suspicions police/sheriff/kbi have done far better in resources than prosecutors/courts. Maybe with a few more prosecutors and judges we could have a lot more trials?

oldgoof 8 years, 7 months ago

The bottom line: Trials aren't free. Prisons aren't free. And we no longer have penal colonies either, except Hawaii for Dog to hunt in, so that doesn't count. If you want to arrest more people, there are costs involved. (have you ever figured out the costs, operational and capital, of two or three cop cars showing up for an incident that takes a couple hours?)

Sigmund 8 years, 7 months ago

Oldgoof comments are right on point. I will note however that bonds are meant to do more than motivate the defendant to show for all court dates. Another factor that I think of that can be legally considered is the risk to the community. Higher bonds for the higher risk defendants is surely a good thing as the article today points out.

Higher bonds overall will mean increased costs to the taxpayers as well. But I would argue that what is the good of a barely used Bus System, roundabouts, Domestic Partner Registries, or dozens of non-essential services compared with the responsibility of the City and State of law enforcement?

BTW, if you post your own bond (full amount) and show for all court hearings, you get your money back. Here is another helpful household hint, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER post bond for a friend or a relative unless you never want to see them again. On the other hand for a mere a $500 bond it might be worth it!

Finally, lazy DA's? No doubt. They are State employees and will take the path of least resistance if given half a chance and often that means avoiding the stress and time of a trial. There are lazy judges as well (none in Douglas County or Municipal court, of course) and lazy police. I have gotten more than one warning instead of a ticket right around shift change.

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