One of my favorite movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It’s Christmas Eve and George Bailey’s life is in turmoil and he’s depressed. George is standing on a bridge looking down contemplating his death by jumping into the cold water. Clarence the angel-in-training listens to George wishing he had never been born and gives him the gift he requested…”a chance to see what the world would be like if he never existed.” George goes back to town and no one recognizes him because he never existed. All the good things he did to help his family, friends, co-workers and town never happened. His wife and children didn’t exist because George never existed. His little town known as Bedford Falls was in chaos. Imagine if we no longer had bail in California? If bail no longer existed in California what would happen when someone is arrested for committing a crime? Law enforcement would make their arrests and drive the suspect to the jail. The arrestees will be processed and then what? Let them walk right out the door on a promise to return to court? Seriously? Release on a prayer and a promise to return? Sure.
Let’s back up. Here’s how bail works in San Diego County. Law enforcement makes an arrest and the arrestee is transported to Central Jail or Vista Detention Facility depending on the location of the arrest. The arrestee or defendant is processed and then placed in a holding cell. Inside each jail cell is a list of phone numbers of bail bond agencies in San Diego that belong to the San Diego Bail Agents Association. Defendants can call family, friends or a bail bond agency to make arrangements to be bailed out of jail. The Bail Schedule is set by the Presiding Judge of the San Diego Superior Court with a committee of judges each year based on the charges and number of offenses. When I receive a call from a defendant in custody first I qualify the bond and then secure the bond with either collateral or a co-signer to insure the defendant returns to court for every required appearance. The process of qualifying and securing a bond can take an hour or longer depending on the charges, size of the bond and resources to secure the bond. A challenge we’ve had as Bail Agents is to find contact information for defendants that can’t remember any phone numbers. Bail Agents are trained to find people and the application process is very important for this reason. I’m on call 7/24 since I never know when someone will need my help getting out of jail. Most of my clients call in the evening and it’s not unusual to see me at Las Colinas in the wee hours of the morning in the process of getting someone out of jail. Bail Agents can see defendants while in custody for a “professional visit” to meet the client in person and to complete their application process. My job involves lots of hand holding and being available to talk to my clients while they wait to be released. Many clients have told me after being released from custody I was their lifeline they needed to get thru that traumatic experience. After my clients are out of custody I stay in touch with them every step of the way making sure they show up at every required court appearance. The majority of my clients have never been arrested again. A Bail Agents job is more than just posting a bail bond. Bail Agents provide a service to clients most people will never understand unless you’ve been arrested. Bail Agents offer an important service for the courts by making sure our defendants return to court. Many times people can’t afford the bail because the amount is just too high. Waiting a few days in custody in hopes of a bail reduction is always an option. With surety bail we have the luxury of offering payment plans for those unable to come up with the 10% prior to the bond posted. In most cases a bail bond agency will take 5% down and take collateral like a car or house to secure the bond and a promissory note for the remaining premium owed on the bond. Another important service Bail Agents can provide is clearing warrants. If a defendant violated conditions of their case or failed to make a payment to the court or failed to complete a class the judge will issue a Bench Warrant for their arrest. Bail Agents can clear warrants with a bail bond without the defendant going back into custody. The warrant will be cleared and the defendant will be given another court appearance date. I’m very passionate about my job because I’m providing an important service that allows a defendant to defend themselves out of custody. A defendant out on bail can return to work, meet with their own attorney and be with their friends and family while going thru the court proceedings.
Now that you have an understanding of what I do as a Bail Agent try to imagine if we no longer had bail in California. No jail cards on the wall with phone numbers to call bail bond agencies. No one to call at 3am to look up your Facebook page to message friends or family to get you out of jail. No Bail Agent to call to have the process explained to you. No Bail Agent to call to help you. No Bail Agent to clear an active warrant which means if you have a warrant you will be going back to jail. What about tourists that find themselves in jail in San Diego because they had a few too many drinks at dinner and got arrested for a DUI? Will they have to remain in San Diego? Or what about that homeless person arrested for failing to pay for the trolley token? Will the jail issue an ankle bracelet for someone who has no home? How can a homeless person be on “Home Detention?” Life without Bail Agents is a very scary thought. Does it mean you’re sitting in jail waiting for a Deputy Sheriff to move you from cell to cell until they figure out how you can be released? Will you have to wait to see a judge? Could you be stuck in jail for several days? Hours? I can’t tell you since no one has come up with a better system that works better than money based bail which offers accountability and consequences.
What about the victims of crime if we no longer have bail? Prop 47 practically legalized crime in California last year. Have you noticed we’ve had more home invasion robberies on the news since Prop 47 passed last year? The first 7 minutes of the 11pm news last night was about crime in San Diego. SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman said crime is up 8% in San Diego since Prop 47 went into law. Last week I watched a woman steal $63 worth of groceries right in front of me at Ralph’s in La Jolla. Store employees stated it happens all the time and there’s nothing they can do about it. Who do you think will pay for the stolen groceries? Even if the woman were arrested her bail would be $2,000. and its a misdemeanor. Oh, we’re still imagining not having bail anymore in California Ok, so this woman steals the groceries and she’s caught and taken to Las Colinas. Since we no longer have bail she’ll be released on a promise to return to court in 6 weeks. What are the odds she’ll return to court? Do you really think if we tell defendants they must return to court and if they don’t they’ll have to pay a fine? Seriously? The courts will be in the collection business again and the number of active warrants in San Diego will be in the thousands if they aren’t already. Defendants that used to be arrested for felony possession are in and out of jail on a $2,000. bail and its a misdemeanor thanks to Prop 47. Oh…yea. We don’t have bail anymore in California… so the defendants charged for possession of drugs or under the influence of drugs will be booked in and sent home on a promise to return to court in 6 weeks. Fewer defendants are going to Drug Court since its optional and the charges are misdemeanors. There’s no incentive to go to Drug Court. We don’t have the funds for rehab programs. Defendants addicted to drugs will return to the community and continue using Meth and prescription drugs they can easily buy on the streets in San Diego. No accountability. No consequences without a money based bail system. Without bail California will be the first state to legalize crime in the United States.
Alternatives to bail? The electronic ankle bracelets instead of money based bail system. We know for a fact that ankle bracelets are easily cut off by the number of violent felons that were released with ankle bracelets and cut them off. We have no idea where they are now. Here’s a small sample of other crimes committed by ex-convicts wearing GPS ankle bracelets from the Orange County Register 07/20/2014:
Deangelo Foote, 22, was wearing a GPS ankle bracelet when he shot and killed a teenager. Foote was sentenced to 50 years for shooting Kevin Allen, 17, seven times. This was in Washington, DC.
Darrin Sanford, 30, was wearing a GPS ankle bracelet when he stabbed a 13 year old Alycia Nipp to death after trying to rape her in 2009 in Vancouver, Washington.
Leonard Scroggins, a transient from Napa County cut off his GPS ankle bracelet he was wearing for his 1994 rape conviction. The next day in May, 2010 Scroggins was in Chula Vista where he tried to rob a woman and kidnap a 13-year-old girl by holding a knife to her neck. Scroggins got 150 years to life for attempted kidnapping and lewd acts on a child.
Christopher Lombardo was arrested in April 2014 for raping a mentally disabled woman in Salem, MA after the victim noticed the GPS on his ankle when he took off his pants.
GPS ankle bracelets are not effective for monitoring criminals awaiting trial. GPS ankle bracelets are a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
Removing an ankle bracelet 101:
What about Pretrial Release Services as an alternative to money based bail systems? Let me share with you some facts about Pretrial Release Services.
What is Pretrial Release Services? Funded by local tax dollars defendants are released at no cost to the defendant. Pretrial Release Services dates back to the 1960’s as a “means of providing release to the financially indigent defendant who was not charged with a serious crime.” What went wrong? Pretrial Release Services started releasing violent felons who were capable of bailing out on their own. Ten percent of defendants released by Pretrial Release Services disappeared and their warrants are in the system. Many get arrested again for more serious crimes and the warrants are picked up at that time. Law enforcement doesn’t have the time or manpower to rearrest defendants for a second time. Secured bail bonds lose only 3% and the surety pays the county the full amount of the bond with a Summary Judgment. With Pretrial Release Services no one is financially responsible for the defendants. Hence many disappear and reoffend. The taxpayers are the big losers along with the victims that must live in fear if the defendants on the run come after them again. Most people don’t even know this program of releasing criminals back into the community exists. Here’s how Pretrial Release Services operates based on the experience from a former investigator and why she left after 2 years.
Here’s a recap of what we’ve learned so far. I’ve explained how surety bail works and the services I offer as a licensed Bail Agent in California. I explained money based bail surety bail and cash bail are by far the most effective ways to get defendants back to court to face charges. An alternative to money based bail is Pretrial Release Services which we now know is a waste of taxpayers money and a threat to public safety. The failure rate is too high and the risk to victims unimaginable when criminals disappear and must reoffend to be caught. GPS ankle bracelets are a complete failure for violent criminals since they’re easily cut off and once they disappear law enforcement won’t have the luxury of a secured bail bond with an indemnitor able to help locate the defendant on the run. Without bail the alternatives are a threat to public safety and the victims. No one will be responsible for defendants released from jail. We simply don’t have enough law enforcement to patrol our communities and continue to rearrest defendants when they fail to appear in court.
The reason I’m explaining alternatives to money based bail systems is because a small group of attorneys calling themselves Equal Justice Under Law are challenging bail systems and saying a bail schedule is unconstitutional. The class action lawsuit was filed on October 28, 2015 in San Francisco. This lawsuit is misguided and misleading. Crystal Patterson was listed as one of the plaintiffs in the case and she claimed she could not afford the $150k bail (“too poor to pay the amount of money generically set by the fixed “bail schedule” used by San Francisco for her charge of Assault with Force Causing Great Bodily Injury). Yet she was able to pay $1,500. down for her bail bond and agreed to pay the balance of $13,500. owed premium no matter what the outcome of her case on a payment plan. Patterson was released from custody and the case has since been dropped. Surety bail actually helps low income defendants in custody because we’re able to take a down payment, secure the bond with collateral and allow for a set payment schedule. Without surety bail the defendant would have to come up with the full $150,000. payable at the jail in order to be released prior to the arraignment. In San Francisco and San Diego the judges have discretion to reduce the bail amount. If Ms. Patterson had only waited 6 to 12 hours she would have been released and saved herself $15k in premium.
Here are a few of their suggestions for alternatives to money based bail:
- Pretrial Release Services
- Text or Phone Call Reminders of Court Dates
- Electronic monitoring (ankle bracelets)
- Intervention and Rehabilitation Programs
- Stay-Away Orders
- Home Detention
Every single suggestion in their lawsuit has already failed. Bail Agents aren’t the enemy. We didn’t write the bail schedules. We must collect the premium in order to pay for the bonds and we must secure the bonds. Bail Agents are licensed by the CA Dept of Insurance and appointed by insurance companies or sureties that underwrite the bonds for the full amount which guarantees the court will be paid in full if the defendant fails to appear and we cannot get them back to court in a set period of time. Without money based bail in California public safety and victims will be threatened and the taxpayers will be expected to pay for the “get out of jail free” for anyone arrested in California. The alternatives are guaranteed to fail and cause more harm to our state than Prop 47 and AB 109. The only way to stop this class action lawsuit is to make yourself heard. Contact your California State Assemblyman and California State Senator representing your zip code. Let your voice be heard. We cannot allow criminals to have a revolving door to our jails. Our safety in our homes, schools and workplaces is at stake. We must not live in fear because some attorneys want to turn California into a state that condones crime and lawlessness.
Remember George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life?” When George saw what happened to his town because he never existed, Clarence said to George, “you really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it all away?” If we throw away bail it will be catastrophic to our criminal justice system. We can expect crime rates to go up and many innocent people will be victims. The alternatives to money based bail have all failed. Bail works.