Banking & Finance, Government, and Law

Lawmakers look to reform bail system

Goal is to implement personal recognizance bond if defendant is deemed not a threat to community.

March 29, 2019
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Michigan lawmakers proposed a bill package to reform the cash bail system in the state.

In March, a 10-bill package was introduced in the state legislature, which was co-sponsored by a number of bipartisan members, including Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, which would reform the bailing system to incorporate personal recognizance bonds, a noncash bond.

The personal recognizance bond is an agreement forged between the defendant and the court to return on their scheduled trial date. In order for defendants to qualify for a noncash bond, the proposed package states the court must consider:

  • If released, a defendant would pose an undue danger to the community.

  • If released, there is a significant risk a defendant would willfully fail to appear in court as required.

“We have been using cash bond in America as part of our criminal justice system for centuries, but I think it is a system that doesn’t work very well,” LaGrand said. “I think that our proper focus in the criminal justice system should be whether the individual who is accused of a crime is a risk to the community or a risk of fleeing the jurisdiction, and using money as a proxy for dealing with those issues is not good. So, I hope that reduces the problem for a lot of people who don’t have sufficient funds being watched when they are not a danger to society or a flight risk.”

According to the proposed package, if the court determines that one or both of the subsections apply and that the defendant cannot be released on a personal recognizance bond, the court must consider certain factors, but the “amount of bail must not be excessive.”

That is a bit stronger than the current law’s language that states, “the amount of bail shall not be excessive.”

While some of the factors the court must consider when establishing the bond amount are relatively the same, such as juvenile/adult criminal record and seriousness of the crime in question, the new package aims to make the bond amount affordable and “making sure that people have bonds they can post, whatever their income level, if they are not deemed a risk,” LaGrand said.

The proposed bill allows judges the option of basing the bond amount on the defendant’s employment, financial status and financial history.

LaGrand said, in the package, judges will continue to be able to use all the bond options they have access to currently.

Hilary Arthur, court administrator/magistrate of the 63rd District Court in Kent County, said the court does not track the number of people who remain in jail because they cannot afford bail.

However, Sgt. Joel Roon, of the Kent County Sherriff’s Office, said almost all crimes are eligible for bond at the discretion of the presiding judge or magistrate.

In my personal experience, aside from homicide and some very serious CSCs (criminal sexual conduct), every arrest I’ve ever made that doesn’t have a hold of some kind associated with it has been assigned a bond,” he said. “It is a large majority of the population that is given a bond at or before arraignment. Typically, it is a very serious offense like a homicide that is denied bond. Some inmates have holds placed on them by probation or parole, and they are not eligible to bond out until their hold is dealt with.”

Roon said an average of 23,493 individuals were placed in jail over the last three years in Kent County.

  • 2016 – 24,545

  • 2017 – 23,455

  • 2018 – 22,478

LaGrand said the cost of jail stay varies, but it usually ranges from $60 to $110 per day.

“There is a huge cost in incarcerating anybody, so incarcerating anyone who isn’t a risk is simply a waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said.

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