Thursday, September 19, 2013
Editor's note: This is the third in an occasional series of stories on understanding the criminal justice system.
A person has been arrested, processed at the detention center and is now awaiting his or her bond hearing.
Bond hearings are held 365 days a year at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. The number of defendants at a hearing varies, and, depending on the number of charges, the hearing for a defendant can take five minutes or less, according to Capt. Nick Gallam, jail administrator.
During the bond hearing, a defendant will also be arraigned, informed of his or her rights, screened for a public defender and given his or her first court appearance date.
Types of bond
Magistrate Judge Tracey Carroll said magistrates can set bond on any offenses except those that carry life in prison as a possible sentence, including murder, first-degree burglary and criminal sexual conduct with a minor beyond first offense. Those bonds must be set by a general sessions judge.
“They have to be held without bond until they can go before a general sessions court judge,” she said. “Once bond is set, if they want a reduction in bond, it has to be done by a general sessions or circuit court judge.”
Carroll said a judge can assume a defendant will get a personal recognizance bond unless the person is a flight risk or a danger to society. Personal recognizance – or “PR bond” – is a promise made by a person to appear in court with no monetary commitment between the court and the defendant.
“I have to determine one of those things in order to change the bond from a PR bond to a surety bond,” Carroll said, adding that they also examine a person's alleged offense, any prior record and the state they are from.
Bond is not meant to be a punishment for a defendant.
“The bond is merely to ensure a defendant's good behavior until court and his appearance in court,” she said.
Once defendants have been assigned bonds, they have a few options for posting them. Carroll said most people who bond out typically get out the day of their bond hearing or the next day.
A few good bondsmen
Ed Wilson has been in business with Georgia-Carolina Enterprises since 1996 and has an office less than a mile down the road from the Aiken County detention center. He explained that there are two types of bondsmen, the first being a professional bail bondsman.
“Basically, that person puts his own assets up with the clerk of court – his own money, his own real estate,” Wilson said.
A surety bail bondsman works for an insurance company.
“We don't sell insurance,” Wilson said. “Basically, we work with that insurance company, and the insurance company financially backs us in case that person doesn't show up for court.”
If you don't show up for court, then the insurance company becomes responsible for paying off your bond to the County, Wilson said.
Many of his clients call him as soon as they arrive at the jail. From there, Wilson and his employees start contacting their family members to help get them out of jail.
Wilson encourages people to shop around for a bondsman, to look at a bondsman's qualifications and how long they have been in business. Also, some bondsmen don't have an office and will ask to meet you in a parking lot to exchange paperwork, so see if they have a physical address.
If defendants don't get PR bonds, they have some options to pay for their bails. The first is a cash bond, in which a person posts a cash amount – usually 10 percent of the bond amount – to the courts and get out, according to Wilson.
Defendants can also pay their amounts with property bonds. The properties can be land or a building, and must be in that state, according to Wilson.
“The person is basically pledging their property, and it's got to be equal to that bond or exceed that bond,” he said. “If they don't show up for court, then the state can start the process to take that person's property.”
The state requires “real property” such as a home or land, Wilson said. Mobile homes cannot be used. Some people put up their car titles.
You can also employ a bondsman, such as Wilson. Once a bond is set, a bondsman or his insurance company are obligating themselves to that amount of bond.
“We put up our personal property with the courts or work with an insurance company. ... If he does not show up for court, that's when we have to go out and try to find this person at our expense,” he said.
Wilson said he typically charges a client 10 percent of the bond amount, which can be paid with cash or credit card. He offers financing in some cases. For example, someone with a $10,000 bond would need to come up with $1,000.
“They don't have $1,000. If they did, they could go down and put it up with the court,” Wilson said. “So I'll take maybe $400 off that thousand and finance the rest of it on a weekly basis.”
Once a bond has been signed by a bondsman, the judge gives them a release form, which is then turned in to the County jail, Wilson said. The jail then processes the defendant out. By law, a jail has to have the person processed out within four hours.
“Usually, our jailers down there are good people,” Wilson said. “They get them out within an hour, maybe two hours at the most.”
'Terms and conditions'
Bondsmen often don't get to interact with their clients in jail except for over the phone, Wilson said. Once they are released, bondsmen get their client's contact information and even a photo of them in case they have to track them down.
“We have terms and conditions on these bonds that people have to follow,” he said. “My terms and conditions, basically, if your bond is between $1 and $25,000, you call me once a week and walk in once a month. That way, I know my interest is protected out there on the street.”
They also require a co-signer on a bond, which can be a family member or friend.
“If they don't assist us in finding them, that person becomes liable for that bond, too,” he said.
If a defendant doesn't show up for court, the bondsman and co-signer will have 90 days to locate the defendant before they become liable to the County and state for the full amount of bond. A bondsman would then file a civil suit against the co-signer.
If a bondsman finds his client, he can arrest him and take him back to jail. Wilson said a client showing up to court is often a gamble.
“You go to Las Vegas and play the slot machines, you put a quarter in there,” he said. “If you come up with bars, you win. If you come up with the devil, you lose. Same way with a defendant.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012.
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