Proposed bail reforms come under fire at state Supreme Court demonstration

Local News

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The Ohio Professional Bail Bond Association is stepping up its opposition to proposed bail reforms.

Representatives gathered Tuesday in front of the Ohio Supreme Court building hoping to get the court’s attention.

A Supreme Court Task Force has recommended moving away from cash bail in favor of alternatives to incarceration. It recommends that all judges have access to verifiable risk-assessment tools to use in determining the appropriate conditions for a defendant’s bond.

Mary Smith, president of the association, said the changes would lead to increased costs and increased risk that defendants might not show up again.

“When you have a bondsman there, we make sure you show up and if you don’t, we hunt you down, we bring you back, and you sit in justice,” Smith said.

On any given day, thousands of defendants remain in jails across the state because they can’t afford to post bond. Bail reform advocates argue that the system is tilted in favor of people with access to cash.

Daniel Dew, of the Buckeye Institute, said the amount of money somebody can post to a judge or to a bail bondsman does not make them any more or less safe in the community.

“What we should be looking at is what risk do they actually pose,” Dew said. “We have low-level defendants who don’t pose a risk, but don’t have money who are unnecessarily sitting in jail and that can cost them their job, their family, their housing.”

The task force compared Ohio’s bail and pretrial systems with those in other states and analyzed state and federal litigation regarding cash bail.

The report noted: “The American judicial system is built upon the foundational principle that those accused of a crime are ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ However, for those who are arrested and jailed prior to trial because they cannot afford to pay a monetary bond, the notion of being presumed innocent in the eyes of the law has little relevance.”

Among the report’s recommendations:

  • Require that a validated risk assessment tool be made available to the judge in every municipal, county, and common pleas court when setting bond or conditions of bond.
  • Amend Ohio’s Superintendence Rule 5, Local Rules, to require counties with more than one municipal or county court to adopt a uniform bond schedule to be used by each court in the county.
  • Tailor pretrial services in Ohio courts to offer appropriate supervision and services that correspond to the level of a defendant’s risk and needs.
  • Consider all alternatives to pretrial detention.
  • Leverage technology solutions, such as text and email reminders and remote video conferencing, as low-cost improvements to pretrial services.
  • Implement a statewide, uniform data collection system to ensure a fair, effective, and fiscally efficient pretrial process.

Smith pointed out that a bail bondsman does not cost taxpayers anything, but that the proposed reforms are likely to be expensive and have unintended consequences.

She argued that attorneys, not pretrial services, should be recommending bail.

“I think that’s where the reform should go – not on the options of bail but to get the attorneys and the public defenders quicker access to their client so that they can decide what type of bail they can recommend,” Smith said.

Supporters of bail reform argue that setting unnecessary cash bail amounts for low-level defendants is unfair to someone who is presumed innocent. 

Dew said the system serves only to enrich the bail bond industry.

“We shouldn’t be subsidizing an industry by forcing somebody to. Pay them money in order to secure their release especially before they’ve been convicted on any crime,” Dew said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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