Local News

Durham Judge Questions High-Dollar Bonds

Posted March 16, 2006
Updated January 22, 2007

— A Durham County Superior Court judge says he believes some prosecutors in the Bull City, as well as other counties, aren't using bail bonds appropriately.

Superior Court Judge Abraham Jones says defendants have a right to reasonable bond, as stated in the Eighth Amendment: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

When Durham police arrested 17-year-old Lamar Bass, there was little question prosecutors would ask for a high bond. Bass was

charged with killing another teenager in a mall parking lot

after the two argued on a city bus.

Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong says Bass's $5 million bond boils down to public safety.

"To commit a crime of that nature in full view of the public in that kind of place says something about the dangerousness of the person involved," Nifong said.

Bonds are set to secure a defendant's release from jail pending trial. Usually, there is a charge of 10 percent of the bond. At the outcome of the case -- whether the defendant is found guilty, convicted or the case is dismissed -- the bond is returned. But if the defendant disappears or does not appear in court, the bond funds are forfeited unless the defendant is found and returned.

Prosecutors can request high bonds, but it is up to judges and magistrates in each county to refer to guidelines and then set bail at their discretion.

Nifong also points to the case of Kenneth Patterson, in which police claim the teenager was caught on surveillance tape shooting a boy on a Durham Area Transit Authority bus. A judge set Patterson's bond at $200,000 after considering the teen's prior criminal record.

But Jones recently reduced Patterson's bond to $25,000.

"They're using (high bonds) as a pre-trial punishment," Jones said. "Don't expect judges to wink and blink and let you lock up people for an indefinite period of time and not move forward."

But Nifong insists if the suspect shows up in court and the public is safe, a high bond isn't excessive. He says it is reasonable.

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