by Judson Phillips
You can reflexively oppose anything the left supports and almost never to worry about being wrong. Unfortunately, many conservatives have fallen for the shiny object that is being dangled in front of them by the left called, “criminal justice reform.”
The American criminal justice system is not perfect and like any other system, there are always improvements and corrections that can be made. Unfortunately, most of the reforms the left is suggesting make things worse, not better.
Abolishing cash bail is one of the criminal justice reformers’ top goals. In a bright red state like Tennessee, that should not be a worry, except for the fact that Tennessee’s disappointing governor, Bill Lee, told the Republican GOP Senate caucus in October that he wanted to “empty the jails.”
Under Tennessee’s Constitution, unless you are charged with capital murder, you are entitled to have a bail set. That is not necessarily a bail you can make, but one is set. Under Tennessee law, when a judge sets bail, there are a number of things the judge considers including flight risk and risk to the community.
Tennessee’s laws are not set up to promote pretrial incarceration. In fact, just the opposite is true. In Tennessee’s four largest counties, there exist pretrial services agencies that review arrests and look for people with no prior record, who do not have serious offenses, so they can be released without bail.
In technical terms, bail is simply a surety in place to guarantee that a criminal defendant will show up for court.
In Tennessee, there are three types of bail that can be used. First is a property bond. This is where a piece of real property is used to secure the bail. This is extremely rare. Then there are cash bonds, where the defendant places the entire amount of the bail, in cash, with the clerk’s office. The clerk’s office holds it until the case is over and if there are any fines or costs from the case, they are deducted from the bail before it is returned to the defendant.
Finally, there is the surety bond that everyone thinks about. This is where someone goes to a bail bondsman to be released. In Tennessee, a defendant pays ten percent of the value of the bond, plus a small bondsman charge, and they are released from jail. While they are released from jail, they are under the custody of the bail bondsman, whose job it is to make sure they show up for court.
If they do not, the court forfeits the bond, meaning the bond must be paid to the court, and a new warrant issues for the defendant. But, part of the genius of the system is that the bond does not have to be paid for six months. The bail bondsman has a six-month window to get the defendant back into the jail before they have to pay that bond.
Bail bond companies don’t want to have to pay that money, so they hire bounty hunters to bring these defendants back to the jail. This is a great free market solution, since the bounty hunters don’t cost the taxpayer a dime.
In places like New York, cash bail has been abolished for all misdemeanor and many “non-violent” felonies. New York’s definition of non-violent felonies is utterly insane, and many career criminals are routinely released, only to commit new crimes. And, shockingly, a large number of these offenders are not showing up for their court dates.
Abolishing cash bail has been a disaster every place it has been tried. Tennessee should not even discuss it. In most circumstances, no one would think it would be part of a discussion in Tennessee.
But, in most circumstances, no one would think a Tennessee Governor would be committed to “emptying the jails.”
– – –
Judson Phillips is a long time conservative pundit and founder of Tea Party Nation.
Photo “Bail Bonds” by Michael Rivera CC4.0.