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Are Supporters of Criminal Welfare Winning?

Posted October 16, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

Crime victims, increased crime, a degraded criminal justice system and unsafe communities are never discussed by supporters of reform efforts that make it easier for criminal offenders.  All focus is on a manufactured number of individuals arrested on probable cause of committing a crime, who are perceived as being held in custody pre-trial simply because they cannot afford bail.  An assertion that has been debunked each time the argument has been put forth as fact.

There have been many efforts through the years to ease the strain, stress and economic impact on those arrested for crimes.  In turn, attempting to move the burden from those individuals to those law-abiding taxpayers who have suffered from their actions.  In 2013 the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators agreed on Resolution 4, voting to pick-up the criminal welfare baton and reignite efforts to reduce accountability for criminal offenders.  The Chief Justices returned to their respective states and began convening committees to study criminal justice reforms, pushing a risk assessment tool over secured release.

These committees were/are comprised of state judges and attorneys with the exception of Indiana, that did permit a bail agent to sit on the committee, though without a vote.  We’ve seen lobbying by Justices in Connecticut, Indiana, New Mexico, New York and Utah.  Each of these states, with the exception of New York have been negatively impacted by enacted criminal welfare legislation or a change in the rules of criminal procedure addressing bail.

As documented on usbailreform.com, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s statewide criminal welfare legislation has had a devastating impact on public safety in that so many repeat offenders are being released back into the community unsupervised resulting in an increased rate of failures to appear and offenders committing new crimes.  It’s a mess.  Similarly, Houston, Texas has adopted a comparable release policy and seeing the same results.  More than seventy percent of those on free release have committed new crimes since the new policy was implemented.

Then there are the lawsuits filed in California, Florida, Georgia and Texas to name a few.  The common complaint, rich people post bail while poor people sit in jail.  That no one should sit in jail one second longer than someone who was able to post bail.  Cases filed in Texas and Georgia have been appealed to the Fifth Circuit and Eleventh Circuit respectively.  It’s generally accepted, one of these cases will make its way to the U.S Supreme Court.

While legislative efforts in California and Texas to implement criminal welfare legislation have been in frustrated, those efforts continue.  This is largely due to the efforts of the bail industry, some prosecutors, crime victim groups and fiscal and public safety minded legislators.

So, are supporters of criminal welfare reform winning?  They have won a few battles but the war is not yet over.  The real winners in this constitutional battle are those who have been arrested for committing crimes who have benefited wherever policies permitting their free, unsupervised release pre-trial has been instituted.  Jail has been liked to a school and the students of these schools are passing with flying colors.

A Horrific Night in Las Vegas

Posted October 4, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

I was in Las Vegas this past Sunday to attend the annual conference of the California Bail Agents Association.  California bail agents were in attendance to receive an update on legislative efforts to eliminate commercial bail in that state and replace it with an unproven methodology known as a risk assessment tool.

It was around 10:30 P.M. Sunday evening when word began circulating about gun fire on the strip.  It was assumed the shooting occurred at one of the city’s many bars, but it wasn’t long before the media began reporting a gunman was taking sniper shots at a crowd of more than 22,000 concert goers at an outdoor venue.  We now know 59 people were murdered that evening with more than 500 injured.  It has been reported to be the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

At the CBAA meeting the following day, the mass killing was on every attendee’s mind and in every conversation.  People were calling home or posting on Facebook to alert their family and friends they were unharmed.  The evil that is possible is difficult to comprehend.

Bail agents deal with people who run afoul of the law every day, though clearly not on the magnitude of mass murder.  One of our primary arguments against a movement that, if successful, would lessen the expectation offenders will appear for court, is a risk assessment based on an unverified computer algorithm which most often recommends release on own recognizance, reduces or eliminates accountability and the expectation of performance.

At this meeting, we heard from several speakers including Jeff Clayton, Executive Director of the American Bail Coalition, Harmeet Dhillon, attorney representing CBAA on the motion to intervene in Buffin v. San Francisco, Assemblyman Jim Cooper and Patricia Wenskunas, Founder of Crime Survivors.  All of whom spoke against the overreaching efforts to reform a bail system that has proven to be effective.  The coalition of stakeholders fighting against these reforms in California is unlike any cooperative effort in our industry’s history.  As a group, we have achieved much although this fight in California and nationally, is far from over.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of those killed or wounded during the deadly attack this past Sunday.  A horrific act such as the one that took place will be difficult to overcome.  As a nation, we have no choice but to continue.

New Lawsuits Challenge Bail Reform/Risk Assessment

Posted August 3, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 1 Comment

Within the last sixty days, there have been three lawsuits filed challenging the constitutionality and veracity of recent changes to the bail systems in New Jersey and New Mexico.  Issues include, ankle bracelets in lieu of a bail bond, risk assessment tools and the overreach of a state supreme court.


It is well known, at the beginning of the year, New Jersey moved to a statewide pretrial release program that utilizes the Arnold Foundation risk assessment tool, a tool that is promoted as an effective means to determine if an offender is a risk to public safety or risk of flight.  Bail bonds remain a legal release option in The Garden State though a judge must jump through several hoops before bail can be required or permitted.  Largely, offenders are either deemed to be a threat to public safety and detained or, they’re considered to be an acceptable risk and released on their own recognizance.  In many cases, a defendant is required to wear a GPS ankle monitor.

On June 14, 2017, a lawsuit was filed in a New Jersey federal court by Brittan B. Holland and Lexington National against a pretrial release team leader, county prosecutor and New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino.  In short, the suit alleges Mr. Holland was not permitted the option to post a bail bond in lieu of wearing an ankle bracelet which came with travel restrictions preventing him from participating in family functions outside the area.

This past Monday, the family of Christian Rogers filed a federal lawsuit against New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Attorney General Porrino and the Arnold Foundation.  The man charged with killing Christian Rodgers had been released under New Jersey’s new bail reform rules.  The 44-page suit claims among other things, violations of the Fourteenth Amendment and product liability.  The plaintiff has requested a jury trial.

The Bail Bond Association of New Mexico is among the plaintiffs who filed suit in U.S. District Court July 28, 2017, against several defendants including The New Mexico Supreme Court.  This suit alleges violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment and seeks class action status.

In the matter of ODonnell, et al v. Harris County, Texas.  The bail system was turned on its head earlier this year, when a federal judge in Houston ruled that effectively anyone charged with a misdemeanor was free to go without posting bail.  Harris County subsequently began releasing nearly every misdemeanor offender on an unsecured bond.  It has been reported nearly 40 percent of those released on unsecured bond have failed to appear for court.  Harris County appealed the case to the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, where oral arguments have been tentatively set for the week of October 2, 2017.

Be sure to join me at these upcoming events where I’m certain, all of the lawsuits will be discussed as well as the hard work by the bail industry to guard against the overreaching efforts at bail reform across the country.

 

The Tolls of Justice

Posted July 3, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 1 Comment

I received a text last Friday from American Surety Company bail agent and longtime friend Harley Esparza about the cost of tolls.  Harley operates out of Corona, California.  He was sitting in “working mans” traffic while those with deeper pockets were paying the going rate of $20.85 to take the express lane home on a busy Friday afternoon.  Apparently, those who can afford it pay as much $90 in tolls during a daily commute.  That can amount to an annual toll tab of more than $12,000, too much for Harley, too much for most.

On July 1, a new gas tax of 1.9 cents went into effect in California.  This may not seem like much but California’s gas prices are routinely a dollar higher than that of the rest of the nation.  The revenue generated from this tax is earmarked to help cover the costs of rebuilding that state’s roads and bridges.  Costs that are estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Amid the high tolls and gas prices there is an assemblyman and senator who would like to add an additional financial burden on California taxpayers by placing at their feet the cost of supervising criminal offenders released from jail pending trial.  Approximately one third of those arrested in California each year purchase a bail bond at their own expense.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta and Senator Robert Hertzberg introduce twin bills earlier this year that would remove the cost of supervising criminal defendants awaiting trial from the defendant’s themselves to California taxpayers.  Assemblyman Bonta’s version, AB42 failed to pass out of the General Assembly last month. However, Senator Robert Hertzberg’s version, SB10 is still alive.  SB10 passed out of the Senate last month and will be heard in the General Assembly Public Safety Committee Tuesday, July 11.

SB10 is being promoted as bail reform legislation when in actuality, it is just one more step in the systematic dismantling of California’s criminal justice system and the fundamental belief of holding criminal offenders accountable for their actions.  AB109, Prop. 47 and 57 have already gone a long way in making Californians less safe.

Fortunately, SB10 is not without opposition.  Judges, law enforcement, police organizations and crime victim groups all oppose SB10.  The General Assembly has already spoken on the existing language as AB42 and SB10 were identical.  So, SB10 will have to be heavily amended, if it has any chance of passing out of the General Assembly.

The bail industry opposes SB10 because it has been proven our industry does a better job getting defendants to court than does the government.  Additionally, the cost of bail is covered by the defendants and their families, not the taxpayers.

Instead of promoting more taxpayer funded financial aid to criminal offenders, Assemblyman Bonta and Senator Hertzberg should simply acknowledge the fact that life is full of inequities.  Being rewarded for bad behavior is not a constitutional right.   We are blessed to live in the United States where we enjoy freedoms and liberties that afford us the opportunity to better our situations.  Anyone who works hard and operates within the law can put themselves in a position where they too can afford to drive in the fast lane.  

Vote for accountability.  Vote NO on SB10!

One Down, One to Go

Posted June 2, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

CA AB42 Fails to Pass, SB10 Still Alive

What a night it was last evening.  Many of us were watching Game 1 of the NBA Finals on one device and the California General Assembly on another.  The Golden State Warriors won their battle against LeBron James and the Cavaliers while all of California won when AB42 failed to a pass out of the General Assembly.

AB42’s doppelganger in the Senate is SB10.  Senator Hertzberg’s SB10 passed out of the Senate earlier this week with little opposition.  The senator’s partner in bail reform Assemblyman Bonta, was not as fortunate.  Despite his efforts, Bonta’s AB42 went down late last night in a 36-37 vote.  He lost by one vote.

What a tremendous effort by the lobbying team and everyone and every organization that was involved with seeing AB42 defeated.  That said, we cannot rest on our laurels, SB10 is still alive and kicking and very much a threat.  The upside is, SB10 must travel through the same General Assembly where AB42 just met its fate. We need to continue to expand our support and opposition to SB10 in the General Assembly to ensure that SB10 does not become law.

What’s next?  SB10 has been sent over to the General Assembly for consideration where it will be assigned to committee.  SB10 is not expected to be heard in committee before June 15.

How can you help?  Continue to provide financial support to the associations working on behalf of bail and victims of crime.  Continue to inform your friends, family and associates to contact their Assembly representative and ask they oppose SB10.

You can also help by encouraging your associates to post only positive comments about the bail industry and informed statements as to why SB10 is bad for California.  Posting derogatory comments and personal attacks against supporters of SB10 is harmful to our overall efforts.  Any such postings should be deleted immediately.  Keep it clean and articulate, we already have the Constitution and common sense on our side.

The Warriors won Game 1 last night but they know it’s a seven-game series.  We can celebrate last night’s defeat of AB42 for a few hours, but SB10 still looms.  Stay positive.  We will keep you posted on further developments.