Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Career Defendants Released on Tax Dollars

It is the intent of the Florida Legislature to create a presumption in favor of release on non-monetary conditions for any person who is granted pretrial release unless such person is charged with a dangerous crime.  Such person shall be released on monetary conditions if it is determined that such monetary conditions are necessary to assure the presence of the person at trial or at other proceedings, to protect the community from risk of physical harm to persons, to assure the presence of the accused at trial, or to assure the integrity of the judicial process.

Dangerous crimes are defined in F.S. 907.041(4)(a) and includes crimes such as acts of domestic violence, stalking, aggravated assault or battery, child abuse, burglary, robbery and abuse of the elderly.

Although this is the intent of the Legislature, the judicial discretion lies with the judge making the release decision.

Discretion is defined as the power or right to make official decisions using reason and judgment to choose from among acceptable alternatives.  Judicial discretion can be very broad and is an aspect of judicial independence.  Judges must make release decisions based on information provided to them at initial appearance that reviews the seriousness of the defendant’s current charge, previous arrest history and convictions, failures to appear, violations of probation, community ties, employment, etc. 

It is a very important decision that affects all of us.  By and far, judges make appropriate release decisions that takes into account the needs of the defendant, victims and community safety.  Non-monetary release can also be appropriate for defendants charged with first-time or non-violent offenses who are truly indigent and don’t have a serious criminal history. 

Taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs were originally created to allow such defendants to be released from jail in a timely fashion.  Such programs make sense when used this way to keep jail populations in check and to allow defendants an opportunity to return to their families and communities for financial and emotional support until disposition of their case.

Non-monetary release funded by taxpayers however is being used more and more for defendants charged with serious offenses, even those defined as dangerous crimes, and with lengthy criminal histories.  We have to question why some of these defendants are released on taxpayer funds in the first place.

Let us give you an example:

Michael Hill has a criminal history dating back to 1988 in Orange County, FL  and has 14 prior felony convictions and 18 prior misdemeanor convictions and many plea agreements on his other charges.  He was charged with contempt of court, possession of cocaine (felony) and possession of drug paraphernalia (misdemeanor) on February 7, 2013 in Orange County, FL.  He has served time in the Florida Department of Corrections and the local jail in Orange County.  He has been arrested for non-payment of court costs and fines and a collection agency has also tried to collect his debts.  He has been declared indigent yet has posted surety bonds in the past as well as remained in jail until disposition of his case.

He was released on taxpayer funds for his arrest charges despite having a lengthy criminal history, failures to appear and violations of probation.  The Orange County, FL jail’s pretrial services program provides supervision to Mr. Hill, which means he calls in to an automated telephone answering system.  Rarely does a judge order weekly face-to-face supervision.

While Mr. Hill was released on taxpayer funds, he committed a new offense of possession of drug paraphernalia and resisting law enforcement without violence.  His pretrial release was revoked and he is currently in jail in Orange County, FL.

Mr. Hill’s criminal history is as follows:

  • 4/1988 – petit theft (misdemeanor) and resisting merchandise recovery (misdemeanor) 
  • 2/1989 – theft (felony)
  • 3/1990 – possession of controlled substance (felony)
  • 4/1992 – petit theft (misdemeanor)
  • 6/1992 – theft (felony)
  • 3/1994 – theft (felony)
  • 7/1994 – retail/farm theft (misdemeanor) and resisting law enforcement without violence (misdemeanor); violation of probation
  • 5/1995 – theft (felony)
  • 11/1995 – possession of controlled substance (felony) and drug paraphernalia (misdemeanor)
  • 11/1995 – driving with no valid driver’s license (misdemeanor)
  • 1/1996 – petit theft (misdemeanor)
  • 4/1996 – theft/2 prior convictions (felony)
  • 9/1996 – theft/2 prior convictions (felony)
  • 9/1996 – escape (felony)
  • 10/1999 – trespass in structure or conveyance (misdemeanor); possession of a controlled substance (felony) and possession of drug paraphernalia (misdemeanor); failure to appear
  • 12/2002 – possession of drug paraphernalia (misdemeanor)
  • 8/2003 – sexual battery with deadly weapon and force (life); armed robbery with weapon (felony) and false imprisonment (felony)
  • 1/2004 – retail theft (misdemeanor) and resist merchandise recovery (misdemeanor)
  • 2/2004 – theft/2 prior convictions (felony) and resisting law enforcement without violence (misdemeanor)
  • 2/2005 – possession of drug paraphernalia (misdemeanor); failed to appear
  • 4/2005 – theft/2 prior convictions (felony)
  • 7/2006 – theft/2 prior convictions (felony)
  • 1/2007 – driving with no valid driver’s license (misdemeanor)
  • 8/2007 – possession of drug paraphernalia (misdemeanor)
  • 12/2007 – petit theft (misdemeanor)
  • 2/2008 – possession of controlled substance (felony) and possession of drug paraphernalia (misdemeanor)
  • 8/2008 – theft/2 prior convictions (felony); violation of probation
  • 1/2009 – possession of controlled substance (felony) and possession of drug paraphernalia (misdemeanor)
  • 9/2009 – theft/2 prior convictions (felony) and possession of drug paraphernalia (misdemeanor)
  • 6/2010 - theft/2 prior convictions (felony); failure to appear
  • 9/2010 - theft/2 prior convictions (felony); violation of probation
There are many more individuals released on taxpayer funds that have similar histories to Mr. Hill and/or whose arrest charges shouldn't warrant release on taxpayer funds.  Judges already have the discretion to release defendants on their own recognizance, or their promise to appear for all court hearings until disposition of their case.  But since Orange County Government funds a pretrial services program, Judges have the right to release defendants in to the program thinking the program will adequately supervise them and enforce conditions of release.

For defendants charged with non-violent offenses with minimal criminal history, funding a pretrial services program might be efficient for the county in order to control jail costs.  But they are assuming a huge liability for supervising defendants such as Mr. Hill who have lengthy prior criminal histories.  After all, just look at Orange County’s failed Home Confinement program, which in theory should have had even more stringent levels of supervision than the pretrial services program.  We now know that it didn't.

As taxpayers, we have the right to question such releases as Mr. Hill's and why we are paying for it.

Public policy affects public safety.

1 comment:

  1. Bail Bonding is definitely by definition, and in practice a type of product to be classified as insurance services. It sounds like buying your own freedom with bail bonds.

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