FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Bond reform is a hot topic across the country. It’s meant to make things fairer, but critics say it’s really just a grand experiment. It’s also a major shift in our criminal justice system.
Now, under a new administrative order in Broward County, fewer people arrested in Broward County will have to wait to see a judge.
The order was issued by Broward County Chief Judge Jack Tuter.
“Taking people into custody for minor offenses is just not the way to run a criminal justice system,” Tuter said.
Most people charged with nonviolent felonies and third-degree misdemeanors in Broward County are released from prison and told when to appear in court without seeing a judge or paying bail.
Tuter believed it wasn’t fair for someone to get out of prison just because they had money.
“I saw a huge disparity between, particularly minority communities, who didn’t have the money to post security bail and often ended up in prison for low-level, non-public safety crimes.”
Bail bonds are upset as the order clearly hurts their business and, they said, removes accountability.
A bail bondsman said: “It’s tagline. He gets cops to play tag with criminals.”
Criminal defense attorney Eric Schwartzreich said lawmakers could still decide whether someone facing these types of charges, such as aggravated theft and possession, should see a judge before leaving prison.
“Now it’s up to the prison. It’s up to the prison guards. It’s up to the legislators here in Broward County who run the prison to look and see if anyone is on parole and if anyone has a warrant. This is to exclude or prevent your dismissal. You can miss that.”
Broward’s public defender said it was time for a change.
In a statement, Broward County public defender Gordon Weekes said:
“It is important to take a fresh look at bond reform. This new administrative order moves us towards a system that resolves the inequalities in the criminal justice system for those who lack the wealth to post bail for a nonviolent crime. The previous system was heavily weighted in favor of the rich and inadvertently punitive to the poor, who could not afford even a minimal borrowing.
“While the rich could get out immediately without having to face a judge, the working poor would be set back further as they lose their jobs, are evicted from their homes and need their cars to rest while they are paying $110 to $130 a year year in prison day. Just because they couldn’t afford to post bail.”
The new order in Broward County was a collaborative effort. The prosecutor’s office, the Broward sheriff’s office, and the public defender’s office were all required to sign the order. After a year they said they will re-evaluate and tweak it over time.
Incidentally, Miami-Dade County has a very different bond schedule.
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