High-profile criminal cases have drawn attention to the way defendants are granted bond and sentenced for crimes in Alabama.
Ibraheem Yazeed is accused of kidnapping and murdering Aniah Blanchard in Lee County in October. It may be hard for many to believe Yazeed would be able to gain access to Blanchard with his past arrests, but Attorney General of Alabama Steve Marshall said judges’ hands are tied in many ways.
“The way bond is structured in Alabama, there is only one mechanism to no bond someone and that is a capital murder charge,” Marshall said last month in an interview with The Outlook. “After an arrest, somebody is generally going to be eligible for some type of bond. Rules of Criminal Procedure and Rules of Judicial Administration require that magistrates and judges go to the bond schedule which is classified by type of offense.”
The schedules Marshall referred to are set by lawmakers in Montgomery.
Yazeed was out on bond following a January 2019 arrest for kidnapping and attempted murder in Montgomery County.
Marshall said unless circumstances can be presented to the court to deviate from the range, judges and magistrates have to stick to the schedule.
“They are required to stay within that range unless there are factors which a prosecutor has the reason to articulate to add to the bond, for example flight risk (or) risk of harm to the public in general,” Marshall said. “Some would argue that risk of harm is baked into the ranges because you are going to have range for a Class A felony like murder is higher than a bond for a Class C or D felony.”
Some issues include getting critical information of prior criminal history to the courts and prosecutors to help aid the decision to exceed the ranges of bond.
“There are a couple things in play, one of which is are we effectively getting judges prior criminal history to be able to determine that risk assessment,” Marshall said.
Many may wonder if the Montgomery County judge had the information Yazeed was arrested in Missouri for aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer in 2017 or the 2012 of attempted murder when authorities said Yazeed rammed his car into a Montgomery police vehicle. A grand jury did not indict Yazeed on the charge.
Marshall believes those arrested need to be assessed before a proper bond can be determined. Required assessments are being done on defendants just not in the bonding process.
“One thing we need to evaluate is some states are doing a risk-needs assessment on an individuals before the bond is ever set,” Marshall said. “Right now we are doing that in the parole setting, but it is on the back end.”
Marshall questions if the necessary mechanisms are in place to allow an assessment in the bonding process but thinks they would be useful.
“Do we have the tools to do a risk needs assessment at bonding?” Marshall asked. “It would be another tool in the tool box.”
Marshall said prosecutors should be involved in the process too but it could be difficult with staffing.
“We have the need for prosecutors to have a voice on bond,” Marshall said. “The fact that someone is brought in by law enforcement, you may not have a prosecutor that is aware. There are only so many bodies available there in prosecutors’ offices, especially in the smaller counties. I think we need to figure a way once a violent crime is committed we have a way to get prosecutors involved in the bonding process.”
Bonding companies only have to present certificates of deposits (CD) of $25,000 to the county a bonding company operates to sign on someone’s bond, a potential flaw according to Marshall.
“There is not a whole lot of consequences for bonding companies to go in on these high bonds,” Marshall said. “If they write a bond on someone for $500,000, and if there is a forfeiture filed (the CD) doesn’t cover it. If it is a corporate entity without any real assets there is not a great deal of accountability.”
Currently there is a process in place for defendants to request a lower bond with a court and even appeal the decision. Marshall said there are those who believe the bonding system is too harsh on suspects.
“There has been extensive litigation where bonds in Alabama have been challenged because we are overly harsh, particularly the cash bond system incarcerated someone because they are poor not because they are violent,” Marshall said. “We need to be overly cautious. (Litigants) say by being overly cautious by setting higher bonds, you are violating their civil rights.”