No bail for 9 mi­nor crimes

Or­ange-Osce­ola pros­e­cu­tor al­ters sys­tem to end ‘poverty penalty’ in non­vi­o­lent cases

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Gal Tziper­man Lotan Staff Writer

Prose­cu­tors in Or­ange and Osce­ola coun­ties will no longer ask judges to force those ac­cused of low-level of­fenses to post bail, as part of a re­form State At­tor­ney Aramis Ayala said would end a “poverty penalty” that poor de­fen­dants can­not af­ford.

Ayala’s of­fice an­nounced the pol­icy change Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon. She was not avail­able to an­swer ques­tions about the new pol­icy, spokes­woman Eryka Washington said.

“Eco­nomic bias has no place in our jus­tice sys­tem,” Ayala said in a state­ment. “By pri­mar­ily re­ly­ing on money, our bail sys­tem has cre­ated a poverty penalty that un­jus­ti­fi­ably dis­crim­i­nates against those with­out re­sources to pay. Our fo­cus must be on pub­lic safety, not on wealth.”

The pol­icy iden­ti­fied nine charges to which it would ap­ply, in­clud­ing driv­ing with­out a li­cense or ve­hi­cle regis­tra­tion; lowlevel drug crimes, such as pos­ses­sion of drug para­pher­na­lia or fewer than 20 grams of mar­i­juana; as well as dis­or­derly in­tox­i­ca­tion, pan­han­dling and loi­ter­ing.

The pol­icy will go into ef­fect June 1.

“Florida Statutes make it clear

that bail is re­served for two in­stances — when pub­lic safety is jeop­ar­dized, and when there is a risk of flight,” the new pol­icy reads. “… Not all peo­ple who are ar­rested fall into these two cat­e­gories. If an individual is not a threat to the com­mu­nity, and there is no in­di­ca­tion he or she will not ap­pear at fu­ture court dates, then bail is not only un­nec­es­sary, it is con­trary to Florida law.”

Af­ter peo­ple are ar­rested, they typ­i­cally face a judge who de­cides whether to set a bail amount. That is when prose­cu­tors and de­fense at­tor­neys step in, ar­gu­ing for higher or lower amounts, de­pend­ing on the de­tails of the case and the de­fen­dant’s prior his­tory and fi­nan­cial means, among other fac­tors.

Prose­cu­tors are typ­i­cally on the side call­ing for a higher amount. Un­der Ayala’s new pol­icy, in many cases they would in­stead ask for the de­fen­dant to be re­leased with­out hav­ing to post any fi­nan­cial stake.

Ayala’s de­ci­sion, which only af­fects de­fen­dants in Or­ange and Osce­ola coun­ties, comes as some states have im­ple­mented sim­i­lar poli­cies in re­cent years.

“There is a na­tional move­ment to­ward non­mon­e­tary bond,” OrangeOsce­ola Chief Judge Fred­er­ick Lauten said in a state­ment dis­trib­uted by Ayala’s of­fice. “One of the is­sues with mon­e­tary re­lease is it ben­e­fits the wealthy while it is an im­ped­i­ment to peo­ple with lesser means.”

In New Jersey, which largely elim­i­nated cash bail, the num­ber of peo­ple who re­mained in jail un­til trial fell 20 per­cent in 2017, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the state’s courts sys­tem. How­ever, the change has prompted a fund­ing short­fall, the re­port said.

In Mary­land, the state’s high­est court ruled in Fe­bru­ary of 2017 that de­fen­dants should not be held be­cause they can­not af­ford bail. Dur­ing the next 11 months, the share of peo­ple in jail be­cause they could not make bail fell from 40 per­cent to 20 per­cent — but the per­cent­age held with­out the op­tion of post­ing bail rose from 7.5 per­cent to 20 per­cent.

“We should not, as a so­ci­ety, be keep­ing peo­ple be­hind bars sim­ply be­cause they’re poor and can’t af­ford bail,” said Aubrey Jewett, a Uni­ver­sity of Cen­tral Florida po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist. “And, of course, we have to use com­mon sense, but for peo­ple who are be­ing charged with low-level non­vi­o­lent of­fenses ... there re­ally is no pub­lic pur­pose served by lock­ing them up.”

Jewett said there are other pos­si­ble ben­e­fits. Hold­ing peo­ple in jail is costly, he said, and many lose their jobs be­cause they are miss­ing work.

How­ever, he also noted that Ayala wound up re­scind­ing her first ma­jor change af­ter tak­ing of­fice: her an­nounce­ment in March 2017 that her of­fice would not seek the death penalty for any­one.

She al­tered course af­ter los­ing a Florida Supreme Court bat­tle against Gov. Rick Scott, who took 29 mur­der cases away from her of­fice by ex­ec­u­tive or­der be­cause of the pol­icy. Ayala has since cre­ated a re­view board to de­cide when to seek cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment.

“The last time she made a ma­jor an­nounce­ment, about the death penalty, all heck broke loose,” Jewett said.

JOE BURBANK/STAFF FILE PHOTO

State At­tor­ney Aramis Ayala won’t re­quire bail for 9 low-level of­fenses.

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