Roll the Tape

It’s been a tough few weeks for the National Football League and Commissioner Roger Goodell.  The video tapes of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée in a casino elevator have brought national awareness to the crime of domestic violence. Until now the NFL’s policy of a soft handed disciplinarian approach has sufficiently mollified the fans, those days are gone.  The videos changed everything as seeing something is different than hearing about it.  It’s vivid, it’s personal and it’s real.

According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report Nonfatal Domestic Violence, 2003-2012 about one in five violent crimes with a victim was a case of domestic violence.   Knowing this, why then are so many judges and prosecutors routinely releasing offenders of domestic violence on low bonds or no bonds?  If a video of the assault was available in these cases, would these decision makers elevate the requirements to secured appearance?

Even though the “O.J. Simpson Rule” (if the police are called to a location of a domestic dispute someone will be arrested) is a component of most police policies regarding domestic violence, an appropriate bail schedule is not.  The bail required to secure the release of someone charged with domestic violence should equal the offense and should be secured by nothing short of full cash or a surety backed bail bond.

Retail bail agents see it every day; people being arrested for domestic violence and other equally serious offenses.  There are judges, without a challenge by prosecutors, releasing these offenders from jail on low bail, OR (a promise to appear) or discounted cash bail (cash equal to 10% of the bail deposited with the court).

Why are prosecutors not demanding fully secured bail to guarantee the appearance of those criminal offenders with a victim?  Is it not their duty as an advocate for victims?  The courts are either releasing these offenders with a promise to appear for expediency or on discounted cash bonds because they are more concerned about generating revenue from cash bail than seeing justice done.

The court’s apathy is spreading across the country.  In Indiana where I’m based, we have courts in Evansville, Columbus, South Bend and Gary where nearly every criminal offender is required to accept a 90% discounted cash bond whether there is a victim or not.  A 25 to 30 percent failure to appear rate among defendants released on unsecured bonds is common place and an acceptable rate in those jurisdictions.  I’m told South Bend courts have a practice of allowing failure to appear warrants to expire after six months in order to hide from the public the thousands of outstanding warrants in St. Joseph County.

Would a video tape depicting the indifference and disregard many judges and prosecutors have towards public safety and victims’ rights be enough for the public to demand changes?  I’m not so sure, let’s roll the tape and find out.