The Secretary of State approved an initiative this week for the November ballot that would reduce the number of pretrial defendants who could get out of jail “for free.”
Proposition 102, which is largely being backed by the bail bond industry, had enough valid signatures Ń 127,424 were submitted Ń to be placed on the Nov. 2 General Election ballot, the Secretary of State’s office announced Monday.
The controversial initiative would not allow defendants accused of a serious felony or violent crime to be released to a pretrial services program on a bond of personal recognizance Ń meaning they promise to appear in court but don’t put up any money. Under the initiative, defendants would be required to appear before a judge who could then decide whether they could be released on a secured bond, their own personal recognizance or must go to jail.
Initiative sponsor Paul Donovan said judges are uniquely qualified through their certification and training process to make determinations on the fate of a defendant before trial. He compared pretrial services to a “taxpayer-funded criminal welfare system whose focus is to release as many dangerous or violent criminals as possible without any guarantee or provision to compel them to come back to court.”
“Are we really asking the people of Colorado accept a system that relies on a criminal defendant’s simple promise to appear?”, he said. “What does that do for our families, for the victims of violent crimes?”
Numerous groups are opposing Proposition 102. Ted Tow, executive director for the Colorado District Attorney’s Council, said a pretrial services program makes the state safer because they provide a level of supervision that isn’t there when a defendant is released on a private bond. He pointed out that violent offenders are already required to appear before a judge.
“It is a very public safety positive approach for the right person,” he said.
There are 10 pretrial services within Colorado, including one in Denver. A pretrial services program supervises offenders while they are on bail; supervision ranges from periodic drug testing to occasional visits to the defendant’s home. The program informs a judge about a defendant’s compliance or non-compliance.
An analysis conducted by the Colorado Legislative Council (CLC), a nonpartisan part of the Colorado Legislature that conducts research, found that Proposition 102 would annually cost the state $2.8 million since more people would spend more time in jail, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.
But Donovan adamantly rejected CLC’s findings and plans to debate the estimated price tag. He believes the initiative would save, not lose, the state millions of dollars as the state’s taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs would be phased out.
“They got it all wrong,” he said of CLC’s analyses.
Donovan and multiple bail bondsmen maintained that the initiative was about increasing public safety, not keeping their jobs safe. But several bondsmen acknowledged that the initiative would likely increase their business as more people would be required to buy a private bond.
Tow likened the initiative to a “job security program for private bondsmen.” However, Donovan disagreed that it was a “bail bondsmen initiative” because it would still allow judges to release defendants on their own recognizance.
Opponents and supporters also disagreed on whether a defendant in the pretrial services program was less likely to appear for their court date than a defendant out on a private bond. Steve Mares of All Day All Night Bail Bond said private bondsmen do everything possible to get a defendant in court since they are responsible for the bond if the defendant doesn’t show up.
Tow, however, pointed to a study conducted by 9News that found that some bondsmen have been using legal technicalities to exonerate themselves from a bond. He believes private bondsmen don’t have the numbers to back up their claim that they get more people to court than a Colorado pretrial services program.
Mares said that while there are a few “bad apples” who might be using technicalities to get out of tracking down a defendant who didn’t appear in court, the majority of bondsmen do everything legally possible to bring a defendant to justice.
“If that person is on the run and not in a facility and are not tied up and are alive, whatever it may be, then we’re going to do everything in our power to bring that person back before the court and if not we have to pay the full amount of the bond,” he said.