Kansas Supreme Court calls for a study of jail stays be­fore trial

The Wichita Eagle - - Obituaries / News - BY CHANCE SWAIM cswaim@wi­chi­taea­gle.com

The Kansas Supreme Court has formed a task force to “take a closer look” at how the state’s district courts han­dle crim­i­nal de­fen­dants be­fore they go to trial, a news re­lease from the court said.

The task force will make rec­om­men­da­tions on what to do with peo­ple who are ar­rested and ac­cused of a crime be­fore they go to trial.

“Ev­ery day Kansas judges de­cide whether to de­tain crim­i­nal de­fen­dants and un­der what cir­cum­stances,” Chief Jus­tice Law­ton Nuss said in the re­lease. “Th­ese de­ci­sions are made amid a na­tional dis­cus­sion about al­ter­na­tives to pre­trial de­ten­tion and the need to en­sure no per­son is un­nec­es­sar­ily de­prived of his or her lib­erty.”

The move by the Supreme Court comes as a bat­tle over bail plays out in Cal­i­for­nia be­tween crim­i­nal jus­tice reformers and bail-bond com­pa­nies over Se­nate Bill 10. The bill, which abol­ished the cash-bail sys­tem in Cal­i­for­nia, was signed into state law by Gov. Jerry Brown in Au­gust.

In most states, judges as­sign bond amounts for de­fen­dants. If they post bail, they are re­leased be­fore trial. If they don’t, they stay in jail.

The bail amount is sup­posed to make sure the de­fen­dant shows up for trial. If the de­fen­dant doesn’t show up for court, the court keeps the money. If de­fen­dants show up to court for trial, the bail money is re­turned. Bail-bonds com­pa­nies typ­i­cally keep a per­cent­age of the bail.

Un­der the new law, courts would de­cide when a de­fen­dant is re­leased from jail based on the de­fen­dant’s records, the na­ture of the charges and other fac­tors that might make the de­fen­dant a flight risk or a dan­ger to the pub­lic be­fore trial.

Pro­po­nents of the Cal­i­for­nia bill ar­gued that the cash bail sys­tem un­fairly holds low-risk de­fen­dants who can’t af­ford bail be­hind bars while await­ing trial.

The bail-bond in­dus­try — pri­vate com­pa­nies that put up cash for de­fen­dants for a per­cent­age of the bail amount and some­times for prop­erty — doesn’t want to go out of busi­ness.

“This is the per­fect time for Kansas to ex­am­ine its pre­trial de­ten­tion prac­tices to iden­tify if and where im­prove­ments can be made,” Nuss said.

The Supreme Court has con­sti­tu­tional au­thor­ity to over­see all courts in Kansas, and the task force will re­port its find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions to it within 18 months, a court or­der says.

The pur­pose of the task force will be to “ex­am­ine cur­rent pre­trial de­ten­tion prac­tices for crim­i­nal de­fen­dants in Kansas district courts, as well as al­ter­na­tives to pre­trial de­ten­tion used to en­sure pub­lic safety and en­cour­age an ac­cused to ap­pear for court pro­ceed­ings,” the re­lease says.

The task force, which in­cludes judges, de­fense at­tor­neys, pros­e­cu­tors, and court ser­vices and cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers, will com­pare Kansas courts to other states, to “help de­velop a best prac­tices model for Kansas district courts.” Af­ter those things are done, the task force will iden­tify what law­mak­ers can do to change the law to align the state’s prac­tices with the rec­om­men­da­tions of the task force.

The first meet­ing of the task force will be Dec. 13 14 in Topeka.

THE MOVE BY THE SUPREME COURT COMES AS A BAT­TLE OVER BAIL PLAYS OUT IN CAL­I­FOR­NIA BE­TWEEN CRIM­I­NAL JUS­TICE REFORMERS AND BAIL-BOND COM­PA­NIES.

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