Judge's order eliminates secured bonds

By JENNIFER COHRON, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 9/8/17

Defendants will no longer be required to post bail before being released from jail, according to an administrative order signed by Presiding Circuit Judge Jerry Selman on Tuesday.

“Effective immediately, all appearance bonds for bondable …

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Judge's order eliminates secured bonds


Defendants will no longer be required to post bail before being released from jail, according to an administrative order signed by Presiding Circuit Judge Jerry Selman on Tuesday.

“Effective immediately, all appearance bonds for bondable offenses shall be unsecured. There will be no property, professional surety or cash bonds,” the order states.

Unsecured bonds allow defendants to be released after signing a document promising to appear before the court.

The order, which also establishes a new procedure to ensure that defendants receive an initial appearance and indigency hearing within 48 hours of arrest, has raised concerns because it does not differentiate between misdemeanors and more serious crimes.

“The community doesn’t want people charged with drug trafficking, sex crimes and assault going to jail and signing themselves out on bond in 30 minutes,” Ronald Parnell, owner of Ron’s Bond in Jasper, said.

Walker County Sheriff Jim Underwood said Thursday afternoon that he expects some inmates currently being held on property or cash bonds will be released from the Walker County Jail as a result of the order, though he is not sure how many.

“The courts will determine that. It won’t be us. They will make an appearance, probably before Judge Allred, and he will determine whether any of these people are to be released or not,” Underwood said.

However, Underwood added that he remains confident defendants who are considered to be a flight risk or a threat to the community will not be released.

“I think all the options would be open on a case like that, even up to no bond depending on the type of crime it is,” Underwood said.

Selman’s order appears to be similar to an order signed by Presiding Jefferson County Circuit Judge Joseph Boohaker in May 2016 designed to keep poor defendants from spending extended periods of time in jail because they cannot afford bail.

News site al.com reported that Jefferson County judges, public defenders and the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office had worked with the American Civil Liberties Union on the reforms after the ACLU threatened to sue over the issue.

According to al.com, Boohaker also issued an order that increased the bail amounts in which a person could be released immediately without paying any money up front. However, sex and domestic violence offenses were excluded.

The new order also left local magistrates scrambling to determine how it affects them because of a paragraph that states it “is styled for use in the District and Circuit Courts of the 14th Judicial Circuit but is to be adapted by the municipalities of this circuit to the operation of their jails and courts.”

“That’s a great concern because the city of Jasper, which I’m most familiar with, has always had a pretty strict policy that says you’ll get a $1,000 cash bond if you don’t come to court. They do that to get the point across that you need to come to court. If they didn’t, I don’t think half the people who go would go,” Parnell said.

Parnell said business for local bail bondsman has essentially ceased since the order was issued. A local judge advised him this week to “give us a couple weeks” to work out answers, according to Parnell.

In the meantime, Parnell said he is hopeful a solution will be found to keep serious offenders in jail.

“The last thing we want to do is do something that will increase crime. If somebody breaks into my home, gets arrested and gets out an hour later by signing a signature bond, he’s back out on the street before I get home from work and may be breaking into my house again. I’m not going to be happy about that. Most homeowners wouldn’t be,” he said.

In addition to bond reform, the order directs District Judge Henry Allred to conduct initial appearance and indigency hearings each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1 p.m.

The order also assigns several responsibilities to Sheriff Jim Underwood, including creating a list of persons released from jail who did not receive an initial appearance or indigency hearing while incarcerated and who have been ordered to appear before Allred on the next hearing date.

Defendants released after 8 a.m. on the morning of a hearing will appear before Allred on the next hearing date.

ACLU leaders told al.com that defendants in Jefferson County were waiting weeks and sometimes months in jail waiting for a bail hearing before Boohaker’s order. “Defendants charged with the same exact crime can either buy their freedom immediately or sit in jail for weeks on end if (they) don't have enough money. The judges' reforms will bring a welcome end to this injustice,” Brandon Buskey, staff attorney with the ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project, stated in a press release.

In at least one case involving Walker County, plantiffs have come foward stating that they were held in violation of their constitutional rights.

In October 2015, eight plaintiffs filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Alabama’s Northern District stating that they were detained between 15 and 84 days before probable cause determinations were made regarding their warrantless arrests by a Walker County Sheriff officer.

“According to the facts presented by the plaintiffs, there has been a pattern and practice in Walker County of warrantless arrestees being held for much longer than 48 hours after arrest without being given a determination of probable cause,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Michael Putman said in an order issued in February in which he dismissed claims against several Walker County Circuit Clerk employees but allowed plaintiffs to seek relief against Circuit Clerk Susan Odom.