17 January 2013

Posting Bond

When you are charged with a crime, you have a right to bail. The founders of our State thought enough of this that two provisions were placed in the Iowa Constitution regarding bond: Article I, Sections 12 and 17. Section 12 provides: "All persons shall, before conviction, be bailable, by sufficient sureties, except for capital offenses where the proof is evident, or the presumption great." Section 17 provides: "Excessive bail shall not be imposed, and cruel and unusual punishment shall not be inflicted." The Iowa legislature has provided that when the court is not in session, such as the middle of the night, and in the case of a nonforcible felony, the Judicial Council will promulgate a bond schedule to be used by our jails. The Iowa Judicial Branch posts the amounts for each level of crime on their website. The Uniform Bond Schedule is used state wide and has become the de facto basis for most bonds. The courts regularly set bonds in the same amounts apparently believing that the Judicial Council meaning the chief judges and chief justice believe them to be the appropriate amount of bond for each level of offense. Bonds have been standardized. The question becomes is the Uniform Bond Schedule in compliance with the constitution if it becomes the standard. The Iowa Constitution states that excessive bond shall not be imposed. If a person can not make the amount of bond as set forth in the Uniform Bond Schedule, is that amount excessive? The Iowa Constitution further provides that all those charged with a crime, except for capital offenses, are bailable. The purpose of bail is to allow the release of a person charged with a crime until the matter is disposed of one way or the other. Most defendants, as previously noted are indigent, have an attorney appointed to represent them at state expense, and are unable to post most any bond. Bondsmen normally charge a 10% fee on a bond and may require additional security from the defendant or someone ready to stand bond for him. If a bond is set at $10,000 which it is for a Class C Felony, the defendant will be required, at a minimum, to pay a bondsman $1,000. This sum is out of reach of most defendants. The question then becomes is this amount excessive. The purpose of bail is to ensure the defendant appears in court to answer the charges against him. The common practice, especially in the more populous counties, is to use bail to force pleas from defendants. The bond for a serious misdemeanor is $1,000, for an aggravated misdemeanor it is $2,000. One would think that anyone would be able to make bond using a bondsman. Untrue. The jails are full of people who have no money and if their wife or significant other uses what little money she may have to bail the defendant, the rent doesn't get paid or the kids do without. We, as a society, are in denial. Those who work, have residences, children in school, the normal stuff, do not think about nor do they want to think about the fact that a very large number of people do not have $100 or $200 to get themselves out of jail. Where a person is charged, as an example with an offense that will normally get him a few days in jail, he will certainly not sit in jail for months waiting for his case to resolve by going to trial when he can plead guilty to something and be out of jail in a week or so. The criminal justice system strikes again. People are pleading guilty to all sorts of charges when they shouldn't for the simple reason they are in jail and can't get out. This compounds the number of convictions and the number of criminals walking amongst us which is the goal, I'm convinced. The more criminals the better--they are easier to control.