Pros and cons of judicial bail system

Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 6:09 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - The man accused of driving his car into a Wisconsin Christmas Parade was out on bond for a different arrest at the time of the incident.

In circumstances like these, judges and attorneys are in the spotlight with the public wondering how the criminal justice system functions.

Many discuss the implications of keeping people in jail. After an arrest, North Dakota judges have options to release someone on their own recognizance, or require a cash bond, a ten percent bond, or a surety bond.

“It’s either release or incarceration, there’s really nothing in between,” said Burleigh County State’s Attorney Julie Lawyer.

Attorneys flag safety and flight concerns while a judge considers the factors and sets a bond.

“It’s not an art form. It’s a sense the judge has to what would be a good level of bail to get the person back in court,” said retired judge Bob Wefald.

Some crimes have statutory bond requirements, but there’s still flexibility.

“We ask for those types of cash bonds or surety bonds, in cases where there has been a violent crime committed where somebody has been injured, where there is potential for somebody to be injured. So, for instance, like a fourth offense driving under the influence. Obviously, that presents a significant risk to the public,” said Lawyer.

If circumstances change, defendants can request their bonds to be reviewed. No system is perfect.

“And he reoffended while he was out on bond. And that was despite our objections, but you don’t know what’s actually going to happen to what’s going on in the mind of the person. So, that does happen. We can only do our best to foresee if there’s a risk and then make that argument to the judge and the judge is in the same position,” said Lawyer.

“It’s not our job to predict what the person’s going to do,” said Wefald, adding that the constitution entitles individuals to bail that is not excessive. Still some crimes, like repeat DUIs, can prompt judges to set higher bonds.

“I was always worried about putting people [who commit repeat DUIs] out in bond to think, oh my God they are going to go out and kill somebody,” said Wefald.

Advocates for low cash bonds cite inequities in the justice system for people who can’t afford to pay.

North Dakota also has a pilot program for pretrial services where individuals can meet with a pretrial officer and receive services while they are waiting for their case to move through the system.

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