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New law requires bail for jail release

Author(s): KIMBERLY VE’lTER Date: August 27, 2008 Section: News

A new Louisiana law that went into effect earlier this month stops people accused of certain violent crimes from being released from jail without posting bail. The law, passed during the 2008 regular legislative session, states that “the court shall not release any defendant (arrested for a crime of violence) on his own recognizance or on the signature of any other person without posting bail.”

A person is released from jail on his own recognizance by merely promising to show up in court, state law says. Someone is released from jail on the signature of another person when that person promises that the accused will attend his upcoming court dates, state law says.

Neither of these instances requires anyone to put up property or pay a bondsman, Louisiana law says. But special conditions, such as gaining employment or regular drug testing, can be added by the judge who sets the bond.

“It sends an awful message if someone commits a crime of violence and they get to walk out of jail with their own signature,” said state Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans. “The clear intent of this law is that you want the bond to correlate to the severity of the crime.”

Richmond authored House Bill 28, which passed the legislative session without dissent.

“In New Orleans, we were having a problem with people being released on their own recognizance and that is not a policy or practice that is productive in fighting crime and keeping violent criminals off the street, even with the presumption of innocence,” he said.

“We don’t want to punish anyone before they are convicted,” Richmond said. “However, when it’s a crime of violence and it’s of a serious enough nature, you want to make sure that the person is going to come back to court and that they realize the seriousness of the charge.”

A recent case in F.ast Baton Rouge Parish that included a signature bond involved the son of state Rep. Rcgina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge.

James G. Barrow Jr., who is accused of killing a church musician March 15 and was booked on a count of principal to second-degree murder, was released from prison in June on a $100,000 personal surety, or signature bond.

State District Judge Janice Clark, who primarily hears a civil docket, set

the bond. But she revoked it five days later after Barrow failed a drug test, and sent him to back to jail.

A few weeks after that, state District Judge Richard Anderson tripled Barrow’s bond, setting it at $350,000. Barrow was released three days later.

James Barrow’s family put up money and property to meet Anderson’s bond obligations.

Regina Barrow voted in favor of Richmond’s bill on April 22. That was about a month before her son was arrested in the homicide of Brent Cole and released on a signature bond.

Barrow did not return two messages left at her office.

Although the law does not specifically address people accused of being principals to certain violent crimes, Richmond said, the law applies to them because they essentially are being accused of the same crime.

A state district judge and a prosecutor, both with the 19th Judicial District Court, said that, although it happens, the practice of releasing people accused of violent crimes on their own recognizance or on a signature bond is not widespread in East Baton Rouge Parish.

“I think most judges use a lot of judgment when setting bail, particularly in serious cases,” prosecutor Mark Dumaine said. “But apparently the Legislature is concerned in this area.”

Limiting judges’ options

The new law, he said, “certainly forecloses that option and that’s certainly a good thing because we don’t want people accused of violent crimes having the ability to have a sign-out bond for which there is no assurance given they will appear for court.”

State District Judge Todd Hernandez said he sees “any legislation that strengthens the security provided in the posting of bail” as a good thing.

The purpose of bail, he said, is to assure a person’s appearance before a court and to protect the community.

“By requiring someone to post some form of surety other than an R.O.R. (release on own recognizance) is a step in the right direction,” Hernandez said.

Defense attorney Jim Boren, however, described the law as “an effort to feel good and do nothing.”

“It’s an effort to pander to a public that’s afraid of crime,” he said. “If you were able to do a study a year later, I suspect you would find that not a single benefit would have occurred except for the bail-bond companies

got a lot more wealthy.”

Judges should decide whether a person is released from jail, Boren said. He added that, during his 30-year law career, fewer than 1 percent of his clients released from custody on their own recognizance or on a signature bond failed to show up in court.

Defense attorney Tommy Daniico said he too has had few clients not show up for court after being released on their own recognizance or on a signature bond.

“Most people who sign surety bonds have a stake in it,” he said.

Overall, the new law makes it harder for people to get their constitutional right to bail, Daniico said. But he said the law will not have much of an effect because of the way it’s written.

“One of the definitions of bail is personal surety,” he said. “I believe if a judge sets an amount for a bond, it can be paid with a personal surety.”

Richmond, who is an attorney, and Dumaine disagreed.

Richmond said bail relates to a dollar amount, not a signature or a verbal commitment. And Dumaine said a signature can’t be bail.

“Bail is something that is given to somebody else as security,” he said. “How is your signature security?”

New bond law

The following crimes apply to a Louisiana law that went into effect earlier this month. The law prevents a person accused of these crimes from being released from jail on his or her own recognizance or on the signature of any other person without posting bail.

• Solicitation for murder

• First-degree murder

• Second-degree murder

• Manslaughter

• Aggravated battery

• Second-degree battery

• Aggravated assault

• Mingling harmful substances

• Aggravated rape

• Forcible rape

• Simple rape

• Sexual battery

• Second-degree sexual battery

• Intentional exposure to AIDS virus

• Aggravated kidnapping

• Second-degree kidnapping

• Simple kidnapping

• Aggravated arson

• Aggravated criminal damage to property

• Aggravated burglary

• Armed robbery

• First-degree robbery

• Simple robbery

• Purse snatching

• Extortion

• Assault by drive-by shooting

• Aggravated crime against nature

• Carjacking

• Illegal use of weapons or dangerous instrumentalities

• Terrorism

• Aggravated second-degree battery

• Aggravated assault upon a peace officer with a firearm

• Aggravated assault with a firearm

• Armed robbery; use of firearm; additional penalty

• Second-degree robbery

• Disarming of a peace officer

• Stalking

• Second-degree cruelty to juveniles

• Aggravated flight from an officer

• Aggravated incest

Copyright (c) 2008 Capital City Press, Baton Rouge, La.