When it comes to people charged with a crime, some people may ask, ‘Why are these people being let off the hook?’” Questions and opinions on the topic are posted on social media regularly, especially for those released on what appears to be a signature and a promise shortly after being arrested.
Monroe County District 3 Justice Court Judge Adrian Haynes emphasized that an option known as a signature bond is available for those who are indigent [poor] in the eyes of the law and unable to pay a bond. The signatures obtained are surety the defendant will appear before the judge on the specified day or the amount of the bond will have to be paid to the court.
According to Monroe County District 2 Justice Court Judge Robert Fowlkes, national standards for indigency are as high as an annual income of $60,000 for a family of three.
A signature bond is used in criminal law as an alternative to the traditional surety bail bond. The signature bond, or recognizance bond, requires the defendant to sign a promise to return to court for trial, with the possibility of imposing a fine against him or her if they fail to do so. It does not require a deposit of any cash or property with the court. This type of bond is frequently allowed to defendants with no prior criminal history accused of minor felony-type cases and those who are not a flight risk or a danger to the community at large.
“A lot of the time subjects are arrested assuming they are guilty,” Haynes said. “My main thing is that a person must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. The law forbids keeping a subject in jail simply because they can’t make bond.”
Fowlkes raises a term that is somewhat relative.
“We are told by the state Supreme Court that bonds and incarceration cannot be unreasonable,” he said. “That doesn’t have to do with violent or non-violent offenses. We have to determine what is reasonable, within guidelines from the Supreme Court. Violent offenses obviously incur higher bonds.”
Haynes emphasized the Supreme Court has gotten strict on judges setting excessively high bonds.
“The Supreme Court wants us to provide the subject the opportunity to get out and work,” she said.
Haynes added other determining factors such as where the subject lives, length of time lived there, family and employment.
“We have to work around job requirements. Crimes are more likely to be committed when people don’t have a job,” she said.
Another important factor that must be considered in determining a bond is finding out whether the defendant has out-of-state family that might increase the flight risk.
Where such risk is deemed too high, the signature bond is denied in lieu of a professional bond issued by a company that can send a bounty hunter to track down and apprehend a subject who fails to honor his or her court date.
“A signature bond protects the county from medical expenses the defendant might incur if he is in our custody,” Fowlkes said. “If he’s out, he’s responsible for his own bills.”
He emphasized that a bond is not a penalty; it merely ensures getting a subject to court. Moreover, he said that bonds can even be arranged using a smart phone.
“The subject is brought up to the phone at the sheriff’s office for an initial appearance before a judge.
“We have a 48-hour limit for holding a defendant,” Fowlkes said of court appearances.
His interpretation of the matter is that the fine determined for a bond is not a debt but rather a punishment.
“We have to go by the rules. We can’t do what we want to,” he said.