Representative David LaGrand wants to reform Michigan’s bail system. LeGrand has introduced legislation to do just that – an expansive package that will spiral Michigan into the perils seen in other states trying to reinvent the wheel.
When bail reform does make sense, it makes sense when we are addressing the mentally ill, poor, and low-level offenders that perhaps should not be in jail but are – largely because society and governments fail to figure out what else to do with such persons and how society can afford it.
When bail reform does make sense, we are addressing another glaring problem we have witnessed in many bail systems around the country—lack of due process, that is review, by a judge of someone’s bail, when that someone has the services of a competent attorney to represent them.
For Representative LaGrand, he is going in an entirely different direction.
Let’s start with the multiple felony offenders that he says should be eligible to get out of jail free. Today, in order for a person who has been convicted of two or more prior felony convictions within the last five years, someone must vouch for that person prior to being released using a licensed bail agent. They don’t just get to walk. The reason for this is history—those who commit the vast majority of crimes are a small number of people, and those who have committed several felonies are at the highest risk of doing it again. The fact that they are now accused of doing it once again should cause us to think that there is a problem that requires another layer of accountability as it relates to their release.
Instead, LaGrand would remove this requirement, and leave instead the idea we should ignore history and probable cause and send them on their merry felonious ways. This is clearly softening the system and rewarding hardened repeat offenders.
In addition, judges and prosecutors will not be able to keep up with the hurdles LeGrand is attempting to put into place. Today, a judge calls the parties into court, and a bail is set. Under LaGrand’s view, every bail setting will be a contested hearing, where a prosecutor will be required, under the rules of evidence applicable, to prove by a preponderance of the evidence the need to set a bail other than a get out of jail free card. Every case will be challenged by every competent defense attorney. Every prosecutor will have to come forward with the proof, which many times will require dragging the police and victims in as witnesses. Every judge will have to hear such evidence, and make rulings on the record sufficient for appeal. And in the case where the state is paying for defense counsel, the state will have to pay for defense counsel to contest the evidence presented. This shifts the burden too far in favor of criminal defendants, at the expense of victims and the people.
LaGrand’s bail package is not the answer.
Michigan does not need major reforms to their bail system which already functions very well. Any meaningful reforms should focus on the real issues – which often have nothing to do with the setting of a financial condition of release. The issues plaguing other states and Michigan often involve procedural due process, the reliance of bail as a mechanism for the collection of fines and fees by the courts, the setting of financial bail on nuisance offenses, and the log jam issue of getting cases resolved in a timely manner.
Murder, rape, robbery, burglary, and aggravated assault forma higher percentage of the total number of crimes than in neighboring states (in Michigan, such crimes are 36% of the total crimes committed, whereas inMinnesota they make up 24% of the total crimes committed). Yet, this is precisely the group of persons Representative LaGrand would have Michigan make it easier to get out of jail free and easier to go on the run without having anyone looking for them.
Michigan needs an answer to the opioid crisis…not a free felon release program.
We do not think this is the best approach to bail reform in Michigan – and further can’t imagine those who care about public safety buying this package – a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We believe that much can be done to find the resources to solve the opioid crisis and stop using our jails as mental health facilities for low-level offenders. But…LaGrand’s bail package isn’t the answer. LaGrand’s approach simply turns multiple felons loose to prey on average citizens in the name of helping the poor.
Many states across the country are considering reforms to their bail systems…some more radical than others. States that have embraced the more radical reforms have suffered serious consequences – increases in failures to appear, the weakening of public safety, and the challenges associated with state funding of yet another government run program.
When bail reform does makes sense, we are effectively balancing the rights of the accused and the rights of victims without weakening criminal accountability on the backs of taxpayers.
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