When I think about 10% deposit bail and I think about it often, I keep thinking how it’s a Rubik’s cube of logic that proponents use to justify its use to guarantee a criminal defendant’s appearance in court. Deposit bail (posting 10% of the bond in cash with the court with the remaining 90% unsecured) is really nothing more than an air sandwich being fed to the general public. A vacuous guarantee provided by the criminal offender himself, providing zero sustenance to victims and taxpaying citizens or the criminal justice system. Penn State assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky recently released on a 100% unsecured bond, not even a partial cash deposit; that was an air sandwich with cheese.
In our effort to prove the Air Sandwich Theory we have initiated an effort to gather information from counties throughout Indiana who have, for years, used deposit bail to the exclusion of all other forms of release, including and in particular, commercial bail bonds. Our request for listings of failure to appear warrants and an accounting of cash bail deposits have met with some resistance.
Some counties have been cooperative in responding to our Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIA) while St. Joseph County (South Bend), a county who has exclusively used deposit bail for decades has been less than forthcoming with details. One would think a county utilizing one system of bail exclusively for forty years would have perfected their process over time. Apparently, that is not the case.
According to neighborhoodscout.com South Bend has a crime index of 4 making the home of Notre Dame University safer than just 4% of the cities in the US. Residents of South Bend have a 1 in 131 chance of being a victim of a violent crime and 1 in 15 chance of being a victim of a property crime. According to the 2004 FBI Crime Report, the overall crime index in South Bend at that time was worse than the national average in every category. It would appear little progress has been made in the years since.
I recently wrote to and spoke with the St. Joseph County Clerk. I was told they had no way of knowing, at any given time, how much money was being held in trust for cash bail deposits and her office could not provide and did not have a detailed listing of criminal defendants who currently had bail money on deposit. She went on to tell me they were using antiquated systems and the only way to know if a defendant had cash bail on deposit was to do a manual search using their public access computer.
One has to ask the question, if you don’t know how much money is supposed to be in the cash bail trust account how do you know if the account balance is accurate? Who is responsible for reconciling this account? Who is responsible for these funds?
The FOIA request I sent to the St. Joseph County Warrants & Fugitive Division requesting a list of outstanding warrants, was met with the same obfuscation. While other counties in Indiana provide a list of their outstanding warrants on line, St. Joseph County claims no such list exists, at least not one they want to provide their employers, the general public.
Undeterred, I was able to find a lengthy list of outstanding warrants for St. Joseph County at www.southbendareacrimestoppers.com. Not surprisingly there were a number of open warrants for failure to appear for court on charges ranging from battery, robbery and auto theft to weapons possession, forgery and habitual traffic offenses. Offenders, who at the discretion of the St. Joseph County judges or its sheriff were released from jail and back into society on a10% cash deposit, 90% free bond.
The residents of South Bend continue to be victimized by elected officials, appointed judges and law enforcement executives who have intentionally opted to use a minimum standard for guaranteeing a criminal defendant’s appearance in court. A fully secured bail bond remains the most effective option for ensuring a criminal defendant appears for court and justice and public safety is served, it’s no air sandwich.