In keeping with the theme of the month, I offer two stories that will forever remind me of the need for the bail agent to guard against passion and prejudice when making bonds.
Often, our first meeting with an arrested person happens long before the full story of his case is available. Nonetheless, there are many times when the initial findings or even the charges themselves are of such a serious nature, that releasing them from custody and back into the public is not to be taken lightly. I assure you that the following stories are true, but I have omitted the names for the sake of privacy.
I answered a call from a distraught woman who told me that her husband had been arrested for armed robbery. The couple was here on a working vacation to look at some property in a nearby resort town and had stayed longer than they’d planned. She told me that they were business owners from Florida, very successful, and really had no pressing reasons to return.
She had just received a call from her husband informing her that he had been arrested while getting gas down the road from a pharmacy where there had been an attempted armed robbery. She said the idea that her husband could possibly have done this was ludicrous. They didn’t need cash. They’d brought quite a sum with them, in case they found a property to purchase.
A Low-Risk Case
As it happened, I had friend who was a bonding agent in the very city where they lived, so I gave him a quick call to try to confirm her story. I was surprised to learn that she was actually being very modest about her means. She and her husband owned five upscale restaurants and night clubs in this town, and my friend was familiar with their names—so much so that he told me that if I didn’t want to take the risk on the bonds, he would be more than happy to transfer the bonds up to me and assume the risk.
I called the wife back, told her that I was sure that I could help her, and quoted her the fee for the bond. She then told me that she was with her two small children at a campground in the couple’s motor home and did not want to bring them to the jail or let them know that their father had been arrested. She told me that if I would get him out and bring him to them, she would pay me the bond fee in cash and also pay me for my time. Relying heavily on my friend’s recommendation, I agreed to do this.
To my surprise, the man looked nothing like you’d imagine an armed robber might. He was well-dressed and groomed, and the wristwatch he wore was worth more than the car I was driving. He was polite, if a little abashed, but did not seem to be the least bit angry. And he seemed intent on convincing me that this was a case of mistaken identity.
I had little doubt that the matter would be cleared up. At most, I thought, the man might lose a few thousand dollars and a measure of pride.
After all, he was over two miles away from where the attempted robbery had happened, pumping gas, when the officers arrested him. He matched the description of the robber, and his van also matched the description of the getaway vehicle. Still, it wasn’t difficult to believe him. After all, what possible reason could a man of his obvious means have in attempting an armed robbery?
After driving him to where he and his wife had set up their motor home, it was even more evident to me that this had to be a case of mistaken identity. His wife was attractive and well-dressed, and the jewelry she was wearing was even more impressive than the man’s expensive watch. She thanked me for helping her husband and quickly counted out the full amount for her husband’s bond premium (and added a five hundred dollar “tip” for my “trouble”). Even after I told her that I was only doing my job, she refused to allow me to return the tip. To this day, it is the largest gratuity I have ever received.
Several months went by, and the case faded from my memory. The man had hired a well-known and expensive attorney, and I had little doubt that the matter would be cleared up. At most, I thought, the man might lose a few thousand dollars and a measure of pride.
Things Are Not Always As They Seem
Imagine my surprise when a few days before the man’s case came to trial, his attorney called me to tell me that our client wouldn’t make it to court because he had committed suicide. He left a note to his wife saying that he had, in fact, tried to rob the drug store to feed an addiction to pain killers. He’d become addicted after an auto accident years before, and when his prescription expired, he continued to buy pills on the street.
He had anticipated being away from his regular supplier for only a week, and when the couple extended their stay, he ran out of his pills. Too embarrassed to admit his addiction to his wife and desperate for relief, he saw a sign that said “DRUGS,” stopped, and went in. In a state of withdrawal, he approached the pharmacist and demanded his drug of choice by name.
The pharmacist, noting the incongruity of the manner and appearance of the robber, instinctively asked, “Are you serious?” To which the man only mumbled, “I’m sorry,” and fled the store. Faced with public humiliation and possible incarceration, he chose to take his life.
The Worst of Crimes
Like the first one, my next story begins with a ringing phone. When I answered, I heard a familiar voice on the line.
In my teens, I had the great privilege of meeting this woman in local government who became a tremendous inspiration for me. She was educated and kind, and she exuded an old-style Southern grace that (for the most part) perished with her generation. To think that she might ever need my professional services was almost unimaginable.
But if I’ve learned nothing else in this business, I’ve learned to never say never. As it happened, she was very much in need of my services—not for herself, but for her brother, who had been arrested for what most people consider the most heinous of crimes: aggravated rape of a minor.
According to the warrant, this man had raped his own step-daughter. He and his wife were now separated, and after the separation the child had confided to her mother that she had been raped by the estranged husband. Subsequently, the man was arrested on these charges and was being held in the local jail.
His sister, my friend, assured me that her brother could never have committed this horrible act. She wanted to bail him out of jail. Knowing her the way I did, I knew the money for the bail fee would be no problem; but crimes against children hold a special place in the criminal justice system. The slightest connection to such crimes is enough to get the proverbial “fleas” all over your name and reputation.
Nevertheless, the lady was my friend. I reminded myself that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and I posted the bond.
After the child’s lab results came back and some glaring inconsistencies were noted, the child and mother were brought back in and questioned. Under intensive interrogations, they broke down and admitted that the charges against my client were false.
The case never even went to trial. It seemed that my client and his wife were about to get a divorce, and almost all the assets were his before they married. He had never adopted the child, so his wife was leaving with practically nothing, She devised a scheme to have him arrested on charges that were so severe that he would never make bond; and when he was convicted, she assumed, he would undoubtedly be incarcerated for a long time.
Long enough, at least, to give her time to bleed away her husband’s assets before she divorced him. Thankfully, forensic science and the right to bail kept this innocent man from spending an extended time in jail.
There you have it: my personal best examples of “Innocent until…” The lesson that I learned from these and other examples in my career is that the guilty do not always resemble Mr. Hyde, and the innocent don’t always look like cherubs.
The criminal justice system, while not perfect, is most effective when we abide by our theme for the month, “Innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.”