We are brought up to believe that everyone is entitled to equal justice under the law. We are to be judged by a jury of our peers who are charged with determining beyond a reasonable doubt, that we either have or have not committed the crime for which we have been charged. And, we are to be presumed innocent until the jury makes a determination otherwise. But, we may find that what we call "equal justice" is often absent.
When someone is brought before a judge to determine the amount of bail required in order to be released from jail, pending the date of their trial, the decision of the judge may actually imply the guilt or innocence of the person being charged. For example, a person bought before Judge "A" for aiming a rifle and shooting at a group of people may be required to post a "cash-only" bail of $25,000. Another person charged with having inappropriate sexual contact with a minor, six or seven years earlier, may receive a "cash only" bail requirement from Judge "B" that is three times larger than what was imposed on the alleged shooter by Judge "A". A case brought before Judge "C" charged a man with participating in the armed standoff between federal authorities and ranchers, in the Cliven Bundy case. The person being charged is a veteran, a family man, the sole support of his family and an elderly parent who requires continuing care. He was denied bail and is being held in a jail about 3,000 miles away from his family, awaiting trial, which is not expected to begin for at least a year.
These examples pose a few questions. Let's start with the "cash only" bail. Normally, when a person is required to post bail, he or she can purchase a bail-bond for about 10 percent of the bond's face value. However, when the court imposes a "cash only" requirement, the person must present to the court the entire amount in cash. In the examples above, Judge "A" would require $25,000 in cash before the person being charged could be released from jail, pending their court appearance. Judge "B" would require the person brought before him to provide the Court with $75,000 in cash in order to be released pending trial. The imposition of "cash only" may make it virtually impossible for the person being charged to be released from jail pending his or her court date. How many average citizens or their families can stop at the bank and walk out with $25 or $75 thousand dollars in cash to bring to the court?
In each of these examples, the person being charged may appeal the cash only bail, or the dollar amount of the bail, or the denial of bail. However, pending the appeal hearing, the person must remain in jail, which most often takes a number of months. That doesn't seem to be "innocent until proven guilty", but a pre-judgement of guilt.
There are a few major issues that need to be reasonably resolved. The first is the issue of the cash-only bail. By its very nature, requiring a person to pay a cash-only bail inflicts a penalty that is 10 times more costly than a regular bail assessment would be. As the examples above showed, cash-only bail for the two individuals was equivalent to purchasing bail bonds in the amount of $250,000 and $750,000 respectively. Excessive?
The second issue deals with the apparent disparity in the amount of bail assessed in the three examples, by three different judges. The person charged with shooting his rifle multiple times was assessed the lowest bail amount. The person charged with having inappropriate sexual contact with a minor six or seven years ago, was assessed an amount three times larger. And, the person participating in a protest by ranchers because of what they believed to be significant government overreach, has been denied bail and has essentially been deemed to be guilty and will be confined to jail, for over a year before he will be able to have his case heard by a jury of his peers. Equal justice?
The third issue is that there needs to be a way for a citizen to present an appeal to an independent judge/arbiter panel to plead for some reasonable level of bail equality. The dollar disparity in the examples shown should be a cause for concern. And, the denial of bail for an individual who has been a pillar of his community, is a veteran and an honorable man, and who is the sole provider for his family, appears to be the worst kind of governmental bullying that may well lead to bankrupting his family before his case is even brought before the court. There should be an urgency in the appeal processes so the independent judge/arbiter can reasonably quickly ensure there is equal justice in the assessment of bail . . . being ever mindful of the presumption of innocence.
(Bob Meade is a resident of Laconia.)
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