Finances, case details considered for bonds

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Setting jail bonds is not a simple task for a judge.

While the courts use a schedule to determine a bond amount, they also look at other factors pertinent to the specific case.

The Indiana Supreme Court has told judges to look closely at a person’s financial situation.

A trend that has been noticed throughout the country is that poor people are usually stuck in jail because they cannot afford a bail, while those with more money get out easily.

“I don’t think it’s fair for someone to sit in jail just because they can’t afford the bond,” Dubois Superior Judge Mark McConnell said.

The Indiana Supreme Court has told the lower courts in the state to not set a bond so high that a poor person ends up being stuck in jail because he cannot pay the bail.

In Dubois County, two types of bonds are available. There is the cash bond, which is all paid up front. Then there is the surety bond, at which a reputable jail bond company gives the court a promissory note for the bond; the note is the company guaranteeing to cover the bond cost if the person fails to appear in court and the company cannot find the person and bring him in within a year. The company gets 10 percent of the bond cost from the person for this service.

McConnell said that in Dubois County, the lower level cases have cash bonds that are low.

“We set cash-only bond on less serious offenses,” he said. “For the other ones, the person has a choice of cash or surety.”

McConnell said that the two courts use a bond schedule to help determine bond amounts.

For instance, a misdemeanor is scheduled for a $500 cash bond, and level 5 and 6 felonies, the lowest level felonies, are a $750 cash bond.

“Anything level 4 or above has the cash or surety option,” McConnell said.

For instance, level 1 and 2 felony comes with a $20,000 cash or $40,000 surety bond.

“The schedule is the starting place,” McConnell said. “It also depends on the person and the circumstances of the case.”

“If it is a minor offense and first time offense, there is likely no bond,” he explained as an example. “But if the person is here for the 10th time, or has a long criminal list, or is homeless and we don’t know how to get ahold of them, or danger to the public — those are different circumstances. Every case is different, and I try to take all that into consideration.”

But the amount of bond set depends on several other factors: the seriousness of the offence, and if the person is a assessed as someone who will not show up for a mandated court appearances.

“We conduct as assessment when someone is arrested, to get an idea of if the person is a risk of not appearing,” McConnell said. “Depending on the offense and based on the assessment, we may set a high bond or low bond or no bond.”

“We try to match what we’re doing with the person we are dealing with,” McConnell said. “You make the decision fit the person and the circumstances.”

The use of surety bonds has decreased over the years, local jail bondsman Janice Williams said.

“The courts have stopped using surety bonds to the extent that they did in the past,” she said. “Now they do more cash bonds only.”

Williams believes that surety bonds could be the answer to helping people afford bonds. “The point of the bond is to ensure the person goes to court,” she said.

In the cases where a cash or surety bond is available, the person decides which one he wants to do. “That’s not our choice,” McConnell said. “That is up to the person.”

If the person is found guilty, the person is responsible to pay various fees to the court. With a cash bond, the court takes the fees from that and gives back the rest. With a surety bond, “you can’t do that,” McConnell said. That’s because the bond agency has given the court a promissory note. So the court would have to collect the court fees from the person.

McConnell said the courts do not look at the type of bond that can be issued when making determinations of a case.

“I don’t get into that,” he said. “I set the bond depending on the level of the offense.”

The courts do consider a person’s financial situation when setting bonds, he said, along with the case’s circumstances.

“A person should not sit in jail strictly because they can’t afford the bail,” he said. “But there are people who need to sit in jail to sober up. Everyone is different.”




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