Bail bonds and bounty hunters
While channel surfing DirecTV the other night, I came upon a show I used to watch in my weaker moments called Dog, The Bounty Hunter. It fell out of favor with me after a few episodes and I had not thought anything about it until the news broke that his wife had final stage cancer. So I decided to watch the particular episode I had found.
Dog and his group of bounty hunters look like theyíre the ones that ought to be hunted instead of the hunters themselves but theyíre not. I suppose theyíre trying to send some kind of message that people with long hair, bodies covered with tattoos and dressed in all black with weapons of harm attached are just normal people too. Iíve always remembered my momís sound advice that people will know you by the way you dress and act so I found nothing impressive about them but evidently they didnít hear the same lecture I did.
Anyhow, after being fooled by the subject they were after many times, they finally caught him, as they always do, at least eventually, and made America safer once again.
But hereís the issue Iíve been grappling with ever since I served on the Tulsa Police Department many decades ago. The purpose of the defendant having to post bail that will allow him to be free in the community until his trial date is deceptively sound. The idea is that if a person has an economic interest in their case, theyíre not going to risk losing their money by not showing up for court. Yet we have hundreds of people each day attempt to skip bail in order to remain free so thereís evidently a problem with the concept.
To me the problem is glaringly obvious. Bail is economically discriminatory. Bail is based on the principle that each crime shall have a special bail attached and if you post that amount, you go free until your trial date and if you canít afford it, you stay in jail. Letís look at the problem with that through an example.
Defendant A and defendant B are both arrested for the same crime. The bail set for that crime is ten thousand dollars. In some states, if you donít have that kind of cash available to you, you call a bail bondsman who posts your bail and charges you a fee for doing it, typically ten percent. So you get out of jail for a thousand dollars instead of ten thousand dollars and if you donít show back up for trial, the bounty hunters who either posted your bail or work for the people who did come looking for you. They donít follow the law as strictly as law enforcement officers do so problems often develop in their pursuit of someone whoís jumped bail.
But hereís the issue. Letís leave bail bondsmen and bounty hunters out of the picture for a minute. In Nebraska, the state mandates that the defendant pay ten percent of the actual bond to be released, rather than the full amount or hiring a bail bondsman. This eliminates the problem of bail bondsmen altogether because youíre acting as your own bail bondsman. The catch is whether you have enough money to do that.
In the example mentioned above, people with available cash would simply post bond with their own money and be released until their trial date but if you donít have the money or access to get the money, you stay in jail. This is why itís economically discriminator. People with money go free, poor people stay locked up. Your net worth should have nothing to do with your status in the criminal justice system but in every single case it does.
I wrote a paper while serving on the police department suggesting that bail be based on a percentage of your previous yearís tax returns. In other words, rather than a flat ten percent for everyone, you would be charged a certain percentage of your net worth and we can continue to use the ten percent as an example. If a man showed a net worth last year of $50,000, it would cost him $5000 to be released on bail while the person who showed only a $5000 net worth last year would be released on $500. In other words, people would pay the same percentage of their net worth rather than a flat amount that has nothing to do with whether you can afford it or not. I realize there are problems with that idea too because a lot of people cheat on their tax returns. I donít know that any system would be fail proof but itís certainly reasonable to believe that thereís a better way to do it than the one we currently employ.
Obviously, my proposal went nowhere and all these years later weíre still practicing the same old concepts of bail and bail bondsmen that weíve always practiced in this country. Itís been time for a change for a long time but Iím not sure it will ever happen. We are creatures of habit and it seems like itís easier to do what weíve always done instead of changing something for the better.