Bail: The balance between rights and public safety

Should the laws for bail change?
Should the laws for bail change?(WBRC)
Updated: Jan. 7, 2020 at 9:51 AM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A man accused of beating a person nearly to death was out on bail when he was arrested again months later.

“It’s one thing to maybe be your first time, if you’ve done something and be out on bond, but we are not talking about one time,” said Angela Harris.

This time, Ibraheem Yazeed was accused of kidnapping and killing Harris’ 19-year-old daughter, Aniah Blanchard.

Community reacts to human remains found in Macon Co.; believed to be missing Aniah Blanchard
Community reacts to human remains found in Macon Co.; believed to be missing Aniah Blanchard((Source: WTVM))

"Our lives will never be the same, " said Harris. “Never... again.”

A mother, suspected of threatening her children’s guardian with a gun and then kidnapping them, was accused again while out on bail. A month before that case went to trial, Derick Brown was charged with kidnapping and killing 3-year-old Kamille McKinney.

"Cupcake" McKinney
"Cupcake" McKinney(WBRC Fox6 News)

The murders of Blanchard and McKinney and the criminal records of those accused prompted the court of public opinion to question why Yazeed and Brown were allowed bond.

One woman posted on Facebook, “[Brown] should have been in prison and Cupcake may still be alive.” On the same link on WBRC Fox 6’s Facebook page, another user chimed in, “How could a judge keep letting her get away with these things?”

On a post about Yazeed’s criminal history, one person commented, “He shouldn’t [have] even been out in the first place. These judges [who] let him go are as guilty for [the] crimes.” Another Facebook user added, “Another chance for him to hurt or kill someone else!!”

Process of determining bail

While the public might be quick to convict, in the court of law, a suspect is entitled to due process and the presumption of innocence.

“Everyone charged, no matter how guilty they may appear in the press, no matter how guilty they may have said they are, by law, is presumed to be innocent and are entitled to a bond,” said Tommy Spina, criminal defense lawyer and former municipal judge.

He added, “The purpose of bond is to ensure... that you show up for court when you are supposed to.”

When setting bail, a judge considers if the suspect is a flight risk, a danger to the public and the severity of the crime alleged.

“Underpinning all of that, which people tend to forget, is a presumption of innocence,” said Spina.

The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution establishes the right to a reasonable bond. “And a reasonable bond is a bond you can make,” explained Spina. “So a $15,000 bond, if you couldn’t make it, you’d hire a bondsman and pay him $1,500.”

If a person can’t afford the $1,500, “then somebody has got to ask that that bond be lowered.”

A judge considers the Bail Schedule set in the Alabama Rules of Criminal procedure when determining how much one’s bail will be.

The range for a murder charge is $15,000 to $150,000. The range for a Class A felony, such as first-degree kidnapping, is $10,000 to $60,000.

When Yazeed was charged in March 2019 with attempted murder, two counts of first-degree kidnapping, two counts of first-degree robbery and first-degree possession of marijuana, a judge gave him a cumulative bond of $295,000. He was given the maximum recommended bail for four of the six charges.

Brown’s bond was $209,000 after she was charged with kidnapping, second degree assault, attempt to elude/death and reckless engagement.

While both suspects have criminal records dating back a decade, they only had a few convictions each and none for violent felonies.

“Being arrested is not the same as being convicted,” said Spina.

He added, “You can’t really fault the judge. Nobody anticipates that just because party A committed crime A that they’re going to go out and commit crime B.”

More data needed

WBRC Fox 6 On Your Side Investigators looked for a record of how often a person is charged in Alabama with a crime while out on bail but found no system tracking this.

Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes said, “We don’t track every single person on bond because that just is not practical.”

“We communicate with the arresting agency after arrest to determine what, if any, additional bond conditions we should ask for or if we should ask for a bond outside the bond schedule or even ask for a no bond. We look at danger to the community and flight risk. We will not and do not hesitate to ask the court for a higher bond than the schedule allows or even a no bond in non-capital cases when appropriate.”

After Yazeed was arrested and charged in Blanchard’s case, his bond from his March 2019 charges were revoked.

WBRC Fox 6 reached out to the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office and asked if it tracks how often people on bond are rearrested and have not gotten an answer.

Public safety concern

In Tuscaloosa County, officers are regularly arresting people on bail for new crimes, according to Sheriff Ron Abernathy.

“It is incredibly frustrating, not only for me as a law enforcement professional, but also for our deputies down there and our citizens, they don’t understand this,” said Sheriff Abernathy.

He added, “There are people who need to stay in jail, people who do crimes against persons, people who are a threat to our community, people who are going to be a threat to our officers, who won’t adhere to the rules, jeopardizing the citizens and our people. Our officers, so they are having to go out here and do this again and again and again – that can’t be tolerated.”

Sheriff Abernathy’s concern is with bonding companies offering payment plans, or as he calls it, “percentage of a percentage bond.”

Instead of requiring the usual 10-percent of the bail fee upfront, Sheriff Abernathy said some bail bondsmen are, “allowing them to pay a weekly or monthly payment.”

“Maybe that bond is set where it’s at because they don’t need to be out of jail,” said Sheriff Abernathy.

He added, “Those individuals don’t need it reduced down because all you’re doing is putting individual people in harm’s way.”

After two Tuscaloosa County Sheriff Deputies were dragged by a man suspected of violating bail, Sheriff Abernathy said he reached out to bonding companies to share his concerns.

“We have to make some modifications and I feel confident that here in Tuscaloosa County, we are moving in the right direction to achieve those goals.”

Lawmakers considering change

Last year, a proposed constitutional amendment that would give judges more ability to deny bail in certain cases passed the House but stalled in the Senate. Representative Chip Brown, R-Mobile, said his proposal “has the opportunity to save lives and keep the most violent of offenders from using the revolving door and getting right back out into the community.” In a Facebook post, Rep. Brown said he will file the amendment during the 2020 legislation session.

After Blanchard was killed, Senator Cam Ward told WBRC Fox 6 he also wanted to introduce legislation restricting bond for certain suspects.

“This a big issue for me and I’m going to continue to work on it as long as I can. I can tell you, what this family went through, no other family should have to go through that,” Ward said.

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