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New Jersey - A Criminal Justice System in Disarray

Posted February 5, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

As of Friday, Rolando Arriso is back in custody.  Arriso failed to appear in a New Jersey court in 2016.  His $100,000 bail bond was forfeited by the court, as a matter of course.  Once the bail agent determined the FTA would not be easily resolved, the case was assigned to a recovery team and the search for the fugitive was underway.

Arriso proved to be elusive.  Once it was learned he fled to Florida, the recovery team spent hundreds of man hours and thousands of dollars in expenses in their efforts to apprehend Arriso.  After receiving a tip, Arisso was located and apprehended in a Tampa area Walmart parking lot where he was pulled out from under a vehicle.  It was reported he was wielding a tire iron and resisting arrest.  Arriso’s fugitive days are now over.  He’s resting comfortably in a Florida jail awaiting extradition to New Jersey.

Under New Jersey’s taxpayer funded statewide pretrial release program that went into effect January 1, 2017, Rolando Arriso would have qualified for a release on his own recognizance.  Had Arriso failed to appear while out on an OR release who, on behalf of the state, would have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars tracking down this fugitive in an effort to return him to custody?  After all, the strategy of most county pretrial programs with respect to fugitive recovery, is to wait until they are picked up during a traffic stop.

Since New Jersey’s government bonding program went into effect at the beginning of the year, there has been news reports of repeat and aggravated offenders being released OR.  It’s a criminal justice system out of control and welcome relief to bad actors running afoul of the law.  Failures to appear are already mounting and the unfunded costs of this expanded bureaucracy are skyrocketing.

On that point, a complaint filed with the Council on Local Mandates last December by the New Jersey Association of Counties, argues “certain sections of the Criminal Justice Reform constitute an unfunded mandate, and are therefore unconstitutional.”  The Council is expected to issue a ruling on this complaint later this month.

Fortunately, while the use of bail bonds has dropped considerably, they still remain a release option for the New Jersey courts. It is being reported, after seeing a sharp rise in failures to appear, some judges are returning to the use of bail bonds to guarantee a defendant’s appearance.

Wiser heads may ultimately prevail in weeding The Garden State of its criminal justice missteps, reinstating the notion, those charged with a criminal offense are expected to appear in court until their case has been adjudicated.  As for Rolando Arriso, with the help of a tenacious, expert recovery team, his case will be adjudicated upon his return, assuming that is, he is not released OR under New Jersey’s pretrial release program. Perish the thought.

Houston, We Have A Problem!

Posted January 13, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 1 Comment

If the filing of a lawsuit in a Houston Federal Court in 2016 was not a sufficient wake-up call to Texas bail agents then perhaps the filing of legislation aimed to put them out of business might do the trick.

I awoke at 4AM this past Wednesday morning to a flight to Austin.  I wanted to be on time for PBT’s first meeting of the year.  After a year off, the Texas Legislature was in session and criminal justice reform had been placed on the legislative menu in the form of multiple bills.  To my surprise this critical meeting was poorly attended with only the usual suspects taking time away from their businesses to show.  The usual suspects being most of the PBT Board of Directors, the association’s lobbyists and surety guys like me who travelled from out of state to attend this very important strategy meeting. 

Our adversaries have had no trouble organizing and raising sufficient revenue to file lawsuits all over the country and engage legislators on filing offender-friendly legislation.  Why then, are so many bail agents showing so little interest in participating in the protection of their livelihood?

Myself and many others have been sporting chainmail for the last few years fighting battles all over the country to preserve the commercial bail industry.  Like any war, it must be sufficiently financed.  Money and resources are critical to success.  In Texas, with its 254 counties, a relationship with your local legislator who understands your business and appreciates your contributions to the criminal justice system is worth more than money.  This resource cannot be tapped if you do not make yourself available to your state association, the Professional Bondsmen of Texas.  

Subsequent to the federal suit being filed in Houston, Harris County bail agents report business is down as much as 75%.  Houston has a problem and that problem could come to your county soon if we are not successful in derailing uniformed legislation.  Please reach out to PBT today.  Write them a check and ask how you can help.  We know the value commercial bail agents bring to the criminal justice system. We need to work as a team to educate legislators and the public who might not yet fully appreciate the work we do and the harm that would be brought to Texas public safety should our participation be reduced or eliminated.

2017 Legislative Log

Cease Fire Ends, Battles Resume

Posted January 7, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 1 Comment

The break from last year's battles in Connecticut, New Mexico and Utah was too short for my taste.  No sooner than champagne glasses were clinked welcoming in the New Year did we see the implementation of New Jersey's statewide pretrial release program go into full effect, turning The Garden State on its ear.

Several counties in that state have filed suit to have the new law overturned on the bases of being an unfunded mandate that is costing the taxpayers millions of dollars. The Council of Local Mandates is set to rule on this suit later this month.  In the meantime, it's Christmas in January for many a criminal offender in that state who are being released pending trial with no supervision.

I just returned from a trip to Sacramento working on behalf of ABC, where I attended a meeting that included representatives of the California's two state bail agent associations, lobbyist and other interested parties.  The topic of discussion was criminal justice reform and how we in the bail industry could work with the state legislature to bring about positive changes that would enhance surety bails vital role within the system.

My next stop will be the PBT meeting taking place in Austin, Texas January 10 -11. Aside from the pending lawsuit in Harris County regarding that county's bond schedule, some Texas legislators are seeking changes to that states current system of bail that would permit criminal offenders to receive unsupervised release pending trial.

The key battle states for the survival of commercial bail in 2017 will be AZ, CA, CO, CT, MD, NV, NJ, TX and WA. Don't be surprised if new battles flair up in the remaining states. Look to our 2017 Bail Bond Legislative Log for detail on pending legislation.

There is cause for optimism with incoming president Donald Trump who appears to be favorable to holding criminal offenders accountable than the outgoing administration. Ultimately, we are the only ones who can lead the fight in our battle.  We are not without our allies. There are plenty of entities within the criminal justice system who do subscribe to an agenda that entails reducing accountability for criminal offenders in deference to crime victims and public safety.

Rest assured American Surety Company will continue to play a key role in the fight for survival of the bail industry, committing time and financial resources directly and through our membership with the American Bail Coalition.  In 2016, I personally traveled more than 125,000 miles on 140 flights to numerous states throughout the country advocating for our profession.  ASC President & CEO, Bill Carmichael spends a great deal of his time working with ABC and the American Legislative Exchange Council to ensure commercial bail will always play an instrumental role within the criminal justice system.

All bail agents and interested parties should heed the call to participate and contribute to the fight in your state. We can continue to prevail, if we fight together.

ABC Holds First Agent Affiliate Conference

Posted November 13, 2016 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 1 Comment

On the morning of November 9, 2016, bail agents across the nation woke up with reason to be optimistic after learning Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.  After eight years of seeing our noble profession being persecuted by the current president we have some reason to hope in the coming days, months and years there will be a return to law and order, holding people accountable for their actions and respect for victim’s rights.

The election set a positive tone for the first American Bail Coalition Affiliate Agent Conference in Las Vegas.  The one day conference preceded only by an evening reception, was held at Mandalay Bay and was short on fluff and long on substance.  Those attendees who were looking to be immersed in specific details and strategy on how to combat agenda driven organization aimed at putting bail out of business did not walk away unhappy.  New York bail agent Steven Zalewski said, “It was the most informative bail association meeting I’ve attended in the last ten years”.  Mike Vester of Denver, Colorado commented, “This ABC conference could not have been more productive”.

ABC Executive Director Jeff Clayton presided over a day of discussion which began with a review of battles that took place earlier this year in Connecticut, New Mexico and Utah earlier.  In addition, there were presentations on the EJUL lawsuits to eliminate bail, lobbying efforts by certain State Supreme Court justices and, what challenges await commercial bail in the coming months.

There were several panel discussions addressing victims’ rights, pending EJUL lawsuits and understanding indigent defendant jail populations.  Jeff unveiled ABC’s Agent Tool-kit that contains a plethora of items including national talking points, legal case transcripts and briefs, Power Point presentations and media articles on bail.

The pending inauguration of a new president does ease concerns that the targeting of a well-established and successful private sector component of the criminal justice system, bail bonds, will cease.  And perhaps, H.R. 4611 – No Money Bail Act of 2016, will be permanently placed in the waste basket where it belongs.  There still leaves the state legislatures and study committees convened by state supreme courts, considering bail reform.  This is why supporting organizations like ABC and its Affiliate Agent Program are so important to the survival of the most effective means of guaranteeing a criminal defendant appear in court.  I encourage all surety bail agents and surety companies to visit www.americanbail.org to sign up for membership.  It would be a worthwhile investment in your future.

Two of Nation's Largest States to Consider Bail Reform in 2017

Posted October 24, 2016 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President under Meeting Recaps  - 0 Comments

It was a seven-day travel week during which I attended annual bail agent conferences in California and Texas.  The serenity of the South Lake Tahoe meeting site belies what lays ahead for the bail industry in The Golden State’s upcoming legislative year. The adverse impact of AB 109 and Prop. 47 have not slowed the insatiable appetite to make an easier path for criminal offenders.  Prop. 57 will be considered by California voters November 8.  This ballot measure, if passed, will pave the way to releasing as many as 30,000 convicted felons from state prisons.  Additionally, state legislators have made it clear, reforming California’s bail system will be a priority in 2017.

Coming off a fallow season in 2016 the Texas state legislature will resume their work in January.  The table is set for introducing legislation that would propose expanding pretrial supervision with little regard for the enormous cost that would be placed at the feet of taxpayers.  You have to question the logic of supplanting a private section bail option which costs the taxpayers nothing with a government program that will cost Texans millions annually.  

While at the PBT meeting in San Antonio, I participated in a panel discussion that included Rep. Terry Canalas, Comal County Sherriff Mark Reynolds, Mike Lozito, Bexar County Pre-trial Director and Houston bondsman John McClusky.  We discussed ways to reduce crowding in county jails.  The suggestions included embracing technology by posting bonds via e-filing (already in use in El Paso and Tyler), expediting the release of defendants upon posting of their bond (currently releases can take up to 12 hours) and, streamlining the bonding process by allowing arrestees to make arrangements for bail soon after booking.  The process should include free calls to bonding companies and criminal attorneys.  Most jails currently charge exorbitant fees for collect calls which frustrate the process.

There are roughly 5500 bail agents operating in the 312 combined counties of California and Texas.  These large states will be two of the key battleground states where bail reforms will be proposed in 2017.  The American Bail Coalition, of which American Surety Company is a founding member, will be working with state bail agent associations to make sure the commercial bail industry is sufficiently represented and defended.  All bail agents should be prepared to participate when called upon.  While bail is protected by the U.S. Constitution, as we know the Constitution cannot defend itself.