Justice for All - May 2011
This fifth edition of Justice For All focuses on bail. This is an issue I take very seriously as County Attorney because the safety of our community, the efficiency of our courts, and the liberty of an accused individual are all at stake.
When someone is jailed the government is taking away nearly all of the liberty they enjoy as an American. Naturally the first question asked by a new inmate is “how do I get out of here?” An accused person currently in jail who wishes to be released must first qualify as “bailable”. Under Iowa law, every defendant is bailable before and after trial unless they are accused of committing a crime specifically excluded from bail such as murder, kidnapping, and assault or sexual abuse at the felony level. A bailable defendant can “make bail” by providing a sum of money as a guarantee that they will appear for the next court date or for trial. The bail amount is set either by a judge or from a predetermined bail schedule. Every bailable defendant has the right to call for a hearing to contest that amount and occasionally some do.
At a contested hearing, a judge looks at a number of factors including the nature of the crime the defendant is accused of, the defendant’s ties to the community, employment status, financial status, past record of meeting court obligations, and current mental state along with the arguments of defense counsel and the prosecutor. Sometimes a family member will volunteer to have the defendant released into their custody and for low risk defendants who are not a threat to the community this can be a viable option. Other low risk defendants can have their bail amount converted to what is known in Iowa as a “signature bond” where the defendant does not have to put up any cash to be released. As the prosecutor I must be convinced the defendant is not a flight risk before I will ever agree to a signature bond. A state or nationwide warrant is issued for those who don’t show and they will have forfeited their bond when found.
As Clayton County Attorney I give special attention to bail for anyone accused of a serious drug crime. A major concern is the risk that some of these defendants will continue using, manufacturing, or delivering drugs while released. For the most serious drug crimes, the Department of Correctional usually requests the accused enter a pretrial release program where they are supervised by a member of the department. I have found that judges prefer this option over continued incarceration. For defendants that the Department of Corrections does not take an interest in, I have developed a form with conditions of pretrial release that the defendant must agree to which includes reporting to the Sheriff’s Department for weekly drug testing. I now make it an express condition of release that one failed drug test means the defendant is immediately going back to jail to be held on bond for the original amount, no questions, no hearings, no debate.In sum, the bail process is an important part of our criminal justice system because it involves the competing concerns of an accused person’s liberty, the safety of our community, and the efficient administration of our court system. When confronting bail issues my goal is always to seek justice for all.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 July 2012 16:28