A topic that has been making headlines across the nation recently is inequality in the bail system and our bail system’s seeming inability to provide equitable justice to defendants who are not financially well-off. There seems to have developed a discrepancy in the system, where suspects with large sums of ready cash are able to secure their release before their trial dates, and sometimes disappear and never return to stand trial, while others, often charged with misdemeanors and lower-level crimes, are forced to remain in prison, before they are found guilty at their trial because they cannot afford or otherwise secure the cash to pay their bail.
Reforms have begun to be developed in many areas, with New Jersey leading the way in bail system reforms. For a detailed look at the way New Jersey’s reforms have successfully changed the judicial system in that state, stay tuned for a blog post in the coming weeks. While NJ is currently at the top of the leaderboards, other states are trying to change the system to better serve justice for all involved in the process, and seem to be falling short of the mark.
The basic influencing factor for our interest in seeking reforms to the current bail system and the inequality in the bail system is a simple matter of “ideal versus reality”, or “theory and practice”. Currently, the system seems to have it out for the poor and otherwise financially-challenged, while wealthy criminals are able to bend the system to their will and get away with major crimes time after time because they can always afford bail.
Inequality In The Bail System
Bail is supposed to function as a measure to ensure a defendant will appear at their future court proceedings. The theory is that if a defendant is required to pay some sort of fee in order to be able to go about their life as usual until their assigned court date, then they are more likely to actually appear at their trial.
In practice, defendants who do not have a lot of petty cash-on-hand, or who are unable or unwilling to put up property or other assets as collateral to their release, are forced to remain in jail, or sign a contract with a bail bondsperson. The bond functions as a loan, and there are fees and interest associated with such a contract.
If the defendant does manage to pay their bail, there are still consequences extraneous to the actual monetary cost of the bail. If it took a long time, days or even weeks, to post bail, then a defendant may have lost their job, their car, their home, due to inability to show up or pay their monthly expenses while they were trying to “make bail”.
Many people say that these consequences are the defendants “just desserts” for committing crimes. But that mentality does not take into account the hundreds, if not thousands, of defendants who were truly innocent in the crimes of which they were accused. We need to face facts.
It is not just out bail system that is out of whack. There is something seriously wrong with a nation that claims defendants are “innocent until proven guilty”, but which ruins people’s lives because they cannot pay to prove they have nothing to hide. Bail needs reforms to provide justice and due process to the defendants and the victims, but our entire justice system also looks like it needs a little updating.