The Colorado Bail Bond System – Unfair, Unjust, Shameful – Punish First Then The Right To Trial – A Tool To Fight Back
By H. Michael Steinberg – Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer
The Colorado Bail Bond System – Unfair, Unjust, Shameful – Punish First Then The Right To Trial – A Tool To Fight Back – Colorado’s Bail Bond System is broken. The purpose of bail is solely to insure the appearance of the Defendant in court. The reality is the wealthy “get out” and the not so fortunate – paycheck to paycheck families – often lose everything.
The meaning of a “presumption of innocence” is ironic to these individuals and their families. The system was never intended to keep in custody those who do not have the ability to post bond. In it’s simplest terms – the definition of bail is the total amount of money required to be released from jail while awaiting trial. If you have the amount of bail set by the judge, or have the ability to retain the services of a bailbondsperson – you gain your freedom while fighting the charges.
If you don’t “post” bail – you stay in custody until you can raise the bail or the case is resolved. You never regain your freedom until you either plea bargain, or the case is resolved in some other way.
The United States leads the entire world in the number of “pre-trial” detainees waiting for the cases to resolve. On any given day there are more than 500,000 people in jail who do not have the resources to post bond or are being held on “no -bond” holds.
Those Who Cannot Post Bail – The Unfair Impact On The Innocent
Colorado’s Bail Bond System Destroys Lives
Putting aside the constitutionality of the bail bond system for a moment, the reality of not posting bond is too real to many in the Colorado criminal justice system. For those who cannot post bond the following impacts are common:
– They lose their employment.
– They lose their home – or are evicted from their apartment.
– They lose custody of their children.
– They “do more time” waiting to resolve the case than the actual sentence to jail as a result of a conviction by plea or by trial.
– They are less able to assist in their defense and more vulnerable to a harsh “plea bargain.”
Or Alternatively Pleading Guilty to “Get Out“
– Pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit to salvage something of their lives.
– The creation of a permanent criminal history that leads to a life of underachieving and loss of income.
The Purpose Of The Colorado Bail Bond System Is NOT To Incarcerate
The idea of bail is not punishment. It is an unstated and entrenched belief by many prosecutors and Judges in the Colorado criminal justice system that the person in custody is guilty. Bonds are set on that premise.
But – there is a new tool in the war against unfairness in the Colorado Bail Bond System. In 2013 the Colorado state legislature enacted new legislation (see below) that was intended to alter the bail bond system to use – rather than cash or surety bonds – a range of nonfinancial conditions such as GPS monitors, pretrial supervision, or unsecured “personal recognizance” bonds.
Many judges are either unaware of the new law and therefore don’t pay any attention to it, or they are so entrenched in bail bond system that the ignore the intent and language in the law.
First – Understanding Colorado Bail Bond “Schedules” – Unfair, Unjust and Probably Unconstitutional
Colorado still uses so called “scheduled” bond amounts that turn solely on the crime charged. For example – the “scheduled” bond in Boulder Colorado on a charge of Distribution of a Controlled Substance Schedule I or II is (18-18-405(1)(a)) is $50,000.00. While the United States Justice Department has filed a civil rights lawsuit attacking this practice as unconstitutional and a violation of a citizen’s civil rights, it is also entrenched in the system.
The Colorado Bail Bond System – The District Attorney’s Use of Fear
The use of the Colorado Bail Bond has been a way to lock people up without an adjudication of guilt. When the bail bond hearing is held – the District Attorney is heard to wail about how heinous the crime was, how dangerous the accused is, and how – if released, the accused will harm others.
Without the possibility of cross examination, the alleged victims of these alleged crimes are also allowed to be heard on issues related to guilt and innocence. After listening to this verbal assault on the Defendant – Judge’s find themselves reacting to the tirade and setting high bail even on seemingly insignificant cases.
The Colorado Bail Bond System – Pleading Guilty To Get Out Of Jail
I have watched over and over as many responsible fathers and mothers actually agree to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit to gain their freedom and save their families. The deal is presented to them – often in domestic violence cases – plead guilty and get out, or be stubborn – maintain your innocence and wait for your trial… and stay behind bars.
If you’re fortunate enough to use a bail bondsman to post your bail – you will pay between 10 to 15% of the “face amount” of the bail to gain your freedom. That “premium” goes into the pockets of the bonds person who then posts the entire bond on your behalf. This premium is never returned whatever the result of the prosecution. Even if charges are never filed or, if filed, they are later dropped, that premium is lost.
The New Weapon – Colorado’s New Bail Law – Can Be Used To Force Colorado Judges To Set Just Bail Bond Conditions – Giving The Accused A Chance