Bail bondsman, private investigator, and agency owner Scott MacLean rebuts a Washington Post editorial calling for abolishing bail bonds…and suggests a simple alternative.
This letter is in response to the December 2nd editorial penned by the Washington Post Editorial Board, titled “Maryland is right to consider ending bail bonds” (Editorial Board, 2013). In full disclosure, I have a vested interest in the bail bond profession as both a surety bondsman and professional property bondsman.
There’s more in what isn’t said in the article than what is said, and it begs for a taste of background information.
The article references a recent Maryland Appellate Court ruling regarding the rights of defendants to be represented by counsel (Court of Appeals of Maryland: DeWolfe v. Richmond, 2013) in response to a ruling of Judge Alfred Nance, of the Baltimore Circuit Court, which the Appellate Court affirmed.
In response, the legislature asked for sufficient time to address the funding and implementation for the estimated 240 additional public defenders required to comply with the ruling. Initial cost is estimated at 30 million dollars, and with the prosecution, ipso facto requiring a presence, could top 500 million dollars in 10 years (Editorial Board, 2013).
The article states that an overburdened public defender must now represent all indigent defendants at their bond hearings, so they will represent all defendants. This assumes that all defendants are indigents, which is an incorrect assumption. It also precludes a defendant’s opting for a special bond hearing to reduce his bond with paid counsel—someone who knows the defendant and is prepared to properly and professionally represent his client—because the defendant was already represented by counsel at his initial hearing.
The purpose of bond is simply to ensure a defendant’s appearance in court. In a bond hearing, the defendant is interviewed to determine ties to the community, employment status, familial ties, previous failures to appear, current pending cases, and if the defendant is a danger to the community. Bail is not intended to be punitive, and bonds posted, in whatever format, are to motivate a defendant to appear in court.
The implication is that bail bondsmen should not be allowed to make money for guaranteeing the appearance of defendants.
The mantra of pre-trial services is that they are capable of monitoring defendants by ankle bracelet or with automated telephone reminders (Editorial Board, 2013). In reference to the states that have eliminated professional bondsman, the article posits, ”…They reason that bondsmen, motivated by profit, should not play a critical role in determining which defendants pose a danger to society.” (Editorial Board, 2013).
The implication is that bail bondsmen should not be allowed to make money for guaranteeing the appearance of defendants. The problem with that argument is that everyone involved in the criminal justice system is receiving a paycheck, to include judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and yes, even pre-trial services personnel.
The real story—the elephant in the room nobody wants to acknowledge—is the colossal failure of these alternative release measures. Ask police agencies that have to deal with the rampant escalation in failure to appear warrants, many of which go unserved for years, or the failure to collect on forfeited bonds posted as unsecured personal bonds, Paragraph B bonds, and 10% to the court or cash bonds.
The difference is that bail bondsmen are not being funded by your tax dollars. They are paid for their services by the defendants and their families, and to my mind, this is as it should be.
As for the issue at hand: How will Maryland resolve its new compliance requirement without bankrupting an already financially distressed state?
Why not impose a bail schedule—basically, a set bail amount for specific offenses? Many states have them, and the court can use a multiplier for repeat offenses and repeat offenders. Bail schedules provide parity across the state, so that if a white male, black male or Hispanic male with similar backgrounds and criminal history commit the exact same crime, their bonds would be consistent—as they should be.
With a bail schedule set by the court, there is equality, fairness and parity, maybe for the first time. If this program is implemented, there is no need for representation at initial bond hearings by public defenders or prosecutors, as no merits of the case are discussed.
If the bail schedule establishes the bond amounts and the commissioner presides over the hearing as always, no advocate is necessary…thus, saving millions of taxpayer dollars.
About the Author:
Rupert E. “Scott” MacLean III is a public speaker, licensed private investigator, and owner of Chesapeake Group Investigations, Inc. He’s also a surety bondsman, professional property bondsman, surety educator, and owner of Chesapeake Bail Bonds. Scott specializes in “low impact” fugitive recovery and is a founding member of NABBI.org, a 501(c)(6) corporation focused on raising the standards of the fugitive recovery profession.
Court of Appeals of Maryland: DeWolfe v. Richmond. (2013, September 25). Retrieved from www.caselaw.findlaw.com: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/md-court-of-appeals/1645449.html
“Maryland is Right to Consider Ending Bail Bonds.” Editorial. The Washington Post 2 December, 2013. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/maryland-is…