Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Failing to Appear: Pretrial Release vs. Private Surety Bail

An Accredited North Carolina bail agent recently shared a story with us regarding a defendant he had bonded out and then who had failed to appear for court. This defendant was a well-known career criminal who this bail agent was very familiar with. As should always be the case, this agent did his job well by making sure he had detailed information on the defendant, his family, friends, place of employment, hobbies and popular hangout spots, just in the event he needed to find the defendant at any given time.

Turns out the defendant did fail to appear for a court proceeding and the bail agent was issued a forfeiture by the court, which meant he had to pay the full amount of the bond back to the court. He had 150 days to find the defendant before a final judgment was issued and the bail agent lost the opportunity to recover any amount of the bond already paid. An arrest warrant was issued for the defendant.

However, the bail agent wanted to prove a point regarding the different tools and methods bail agents use vs. law enforcement to find fugitive defendants who fail to appear. It is a well known fact among law enforcement agencies, which are already overtaxed fighting and/or preventing crime, that finding defendants who fail to appear is a low priority. Bail agents however are financially and physically responsible for defendants they release on bond and have an inherent interest to find a defendant and find them as quickly as possible.

In order to make a strong statement regarding the difference in fugitive recovery for a bail agent vs. law enforcement, the North Carolina bail agent let the forfeiture go into final judgement after having given law enforcement 150 days to find the defendant, arrest him and take him back to court. Law enforcement never did find the defendant during the full 150 days. The day after the forfeiture went into judgment, the bail agent, based on his detailed knowedge of the defendant, located, arrested and took the defendant back to jail. How long do you think this took? One hour.

The main message is this: a licensed bail agent was able to find the defendant in one hour vs. five months allotted for law enforcement and used no taxpayer funds whatsoever. Law enforcement should not be straddled with having to find defendants who fail to appear, but should be focused on keeping our communites safe. Law enforcement officials know the beneftis that bail agents provide and often work closely with them to find and secure dangerous criminals who are out on bond.

However, if this particular defendant had been released through a taxpayer-funded pretrial services/release program, he would probably still be roaming the streets free to commit additional crimes. Such programs offer limited face-to-face contact with defendants and supervision is often relegated to calling in to an automated telephone system. Pretrial services/release programs never have interaction with a defendant's family or friends or step out of the office to do any field visits.

Yet in these tough economic times, county and state governments continue to allocate millions of taxpayer funds to run hugh bureaucratic pretrial services/release programs instead of relying on the private surety bail industry, which has been proven to be the most effective and efficient method of pretrial release. Such programs should focus on doing a thorough investigation into a defendant's criminal and social background so that a judge can make a meaningful release decision at a first appearance session. If a judge chooses to release a defendant into a pretrial services/release program, such decisions should be limited to defendants charged with first-time, non-violent offenses.

A nationwide effort is underway by the private surety bail industry to expose pretrial services/release programs for what they really are: a taxpayer-funded criminal welfare release system! Public safety is not enhanced at all by such releases; but non-accountability for the actions of criminals is.

Speak out to your elected officials and let then know you will not stand to have your tax dollars spent so irresponsibly. To learn more about our efforts, post your questions on our blog.

Public policy affects public safety.

1 comment:

  1. Great Article. This is just one example of how important the bail industry is.