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Broken Bail System Doesn't Protect Public

PATRICK MOYNIHAN

August 14, 2008

As has been extensively reported, Ezekiel Roberts was out on $50,000 bail when he was shot and killed in Hartford last weekend. Under state law, he should have paid a 10 percent charge for the first $5,000 of the bond and 7 percent for the rest, for a total of $3,650.

In all likelihood he paid less than a third of that amount. The going rate for a $50,000 bond is $1,200. The rate for any bail bond is between 2 and 3 percent. This is illegal discounting, and it is helping dangerous offenders with large bonds get back on the street. In just one week of news, in addition to Roberts' case:

Darryl Crenshaw, being sought as the suspect in the murder of Ashley Peoples of Enfield, is out on a $50,000 bond for a previous kidnapping and strangulation case.

Ricardo Mack, just sentenced to 90 years in prison for killing one man and wounding two more in a 2005 Christmas Eve shooting in a Hartford pizza restaurant, was out on $40,000 bond at the time of the shooting.

Rakiem Caldwell of Bloomfield was out on more than $85,000 in bonds when arrested on numerous gun charges last weekend.

With the going rate for bail bonds at a fraction of the legal limit, it is fair to assume that most if not all of these offenders were released on illegally discounted bail bond premiums. This practice only helps them return to the communities they terrorize. It creates a revolving door for violent and repeat offenders and makes bail bond companies incapable of fulfilling their financial obligations to the state.

The function of bonds is to indemnify the state for risk of flight and protect the public. When bail is posted for a third of the legally required rate, the state is not properly indemnified, deterrence to re-offend is reduced and public safety is put at risk.

This problem was outlined in a 2003 Legislative Program Review and Investigation report, which found that in addition to illegal undercutting or rebating fees, some bondsmen were engaged in such practices as loan-sharking on cash bonds, intimidation and issuing phony bonds. The report found that the industry was badly under-regulated.

The state of Connecticut Department of Insurance is responsible for licensing and regulating surety bail bondsmen. Department officials have claimed for years that they does not have the resources to adequately regulate bail bondsmen.

Law-abiding bail bondsmen have taken them at their word and tried for the past 15 years to improve regulation of the bail bond system. For reasons that are not clear, reform legislation never gets out of the legislature's judiciary committee.

One reason may be the consistent opposition of the Black and Latino Caucus. The caucus members' position is that any bail reform would make it harder for their constituents to post bail.

But who are their constituents? The offenders who terrorize their communities? Or the victims of these heinous acts, their families and the law-abiding citizens in these communities? They also claim that many first-time and misdemeanor offenders cannot afford to post bail. But 85 percent of offenders that pass through our court system are released on nonfinancial terms, so they pay nothing to be released. Illegal discounting is really helping persistent offenders.

Commercial bail works; it outperforms all other forms of pretrial release and functions at no cost to the taxpayers. Appearance rates for individuals out on commercial bail are better than for any other form of pretrial release, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics. But the system must be adequately regulated.

Patrick Moynihan is a surety bail bondsman in Hartford.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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