Indiana Bail System Gets Attention

Indianapolis, IN – It’s a rare opportunity for any industry, much less the bail industry, to come before a legislative body to speak at length about their profession and its impact on society and, in our case, the criminal justice system.

The location was Room 431 of the Indiana State House. The legislative body was the Commission on Courts, chaired by Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford. The issue was the bail system in Indiana. While bail was selected to be included in the summer study committee it only came to fruition as a result of Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, efforts to have her bill, SB 425, discussed in the summer study committee.

Sen. Rogers authored legislation that, as written, would have established a County Electronic Monitoring fund to help defray costs of providing electronic monitors to indigent defendants, reduce the bond forfeiture period from 365 days to 180 days and direct fifty percent of the late surrender fee portion (40 cents of each dollar) of forfeited bail bonds to the county of origin. The county would then split the money between the court and the newly created County Electronic Monitoring Fund. That bill failed to get out of committee earlier this year but will be reintroduced in 2014.

Several members of the commercial bail community, a sheriff and a judge testified before The Commission. I testified as did American Surety Company representative bail agents Lee Sexton and Barbara Roach and other representatives of commercial bail. The testimony and questions from the commission quickly centered on bail bonds v. deposit bail.

Those who spoke on behalf of commercial bail did an effective job in demonstrating the stark differences in purpose between bail bonds and deposit bail. The singular purpose of deposit bail is to generate revenue for the court. The purpose of a bail bond is to secure the appearance of the defendant in court at all times required until the case is adjudicated, the true purpose of bail.

One particular point was courts were setting the cash amount equal to ten percent of the bond in order to compete with the premium percentage charged by bail agents. Jailers routinely "sell" the ten percent deposit option to detainees over the bail bond option. The court was, in fact, in direct competition with private sector bail agents.

A general theme from the testimony was once the bond has been set by the court a defendant should have the option to chose how they wish to post their bond; be it full cash deposit, real estate or a bail bond. One judge testified the type of bond used should be at the discretion of the judge and not the defendant.

Returning to a wider use of bail bonds to guarantee the defendants appearance in court and directing all of the late surrender fees on forfeited bonds to counties is the answer to the public safety issue and the fiscal needs of the courts. More hearings are expected. Time will tell if it leads to common sense legislative remedies in the next session of the Indiana Legislature.