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Durham DA Seeks Higher Bonds on Defendants

Posted February 13, 2008

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— Durham County District Attorney David Saacks wants to dramatically increasing the bonds that local judges set for people charged with crimes.

In a Feb. 8 letter to Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson and Chief District Judge Elaine Bushfan, Saacks laid out a schedule of bonds to be used for all classes of felonies and misdemeanors. The judges have the final say, however.

Saacks said the recommended bonds for particular charges haven't been changed in at least 20 years, and public safety and flight risks posed by defendants also require higher bonds than judges now impose.

Durham has battled an image of having a revolving court door for criminals for years. In December, for example, a man free on bond while awaiting a murder trial was charged with breaking into a north Durham home, where a woman had to dodge gunfire.

"We've got an artificially low level (for bonds)," Durham Mayor Bill Bell said. "(Defendants are) out on the street, possibly doing the same thing over again."

Saacks' proposals call for adding $50,000 to any bond when a firearm is used in a crime and doubling any bond for cases involving domestic violence or where someone under age 16 was present< Hre said that is a better way protect crime victims.

"The firearm addition is an attempt to recognize that a firearm used in public puts more than the intended target in danger," he wrote in his letter. "We have all seen the cases where the wrong person was shot or an innocent bystander suffered the injuries."

Defense attorneys immediately objected to the proposals.

"Bond is only to ensure that someone comes to court. It's not to punish them. We still have a presumption of innocence in the U.S. and the county," defense attorney Mark Edwards said.

Defense attorneys argued that higher bonds go too far. The Durham County Jail would overflow with prisoners who can't make bond, including some who are innocent of the charges against them, attorneys said.

"The system can take care of this without hurting a lot of people who don't need to be hurt," Edwards said.

Bell said he would approve of limiting the bond increases to violent crimes, but he said he believes supporters of higher bonds have the momentum in the community as they try to keep people charged with crimes from  perhaps repeating them before they're tried in the first case and punished if they are convicted.

"It's the right thing to do," he said. "In my personal opinion, the only people who have anything to fear about this are people committing crimes with guns. If you aren't committing a crime with a gun, you don't have a problem."

10 Comments

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  • 68_polara Feb 14, 2008

    It still wouldn't be excessive bail even at the new levels.

  • twc Feb 14, 2008

    "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishments inflicted".

    Excessive, I think, is subject to interpretation. Commonsense sometimes needs to prevail over a "letter of the law" mentality. Drastic times call for drastic measures. Judges may need to get in the mix occasionally!! At least, until the justice system is functioning the way it was intended to function.

  • cuteboyd Feb 14, 2008

    This should have been done years ago!!!! This would have spared the lives of many people.

  • willis2 Feb 14, 2008

    I'll be surprised (pleasantly) if Hudson and Bushfan enact 50% of the proposed increases. They have resisted higher bonds for felons for years except when it feathered their political nest.

  • tbajr Feb 14, 2008

    Here we go again with a DA meaning well, but not looking at the
    consequences. Article 27, NC Declaration of Rights: "Excessive
    bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishments inflicted". It would penalize a certain portion of the people (the poor) vs the more wealthy for ability of posting bond. This is just another way of keeping more people in jail, when they should be getting a fair
    trial without delay.

  • 68_polara Feb 14, 2008

    Normalthinking, Sorry but the system can not incarcerate with out due process. This means that one can not be imprisoned for more than a minimal amount of time before they are tried with out being able to post bond. What I would love to see change in Durham is for bonds to be denied to those already convicted of a felony or already out on another bond. Remember that anyone at any time can accuse YOU of anything, never forget the lacrosse fiasco.

  • normalthinking Feb 14, 2008

    I would suggest that they lower bonds on non-violent crimes and have NO BOND for violent/weapons crimes

  • ematson01 Feb 14, 2008

    Finally. This has been a MAJOR problem in Durham. It's about time we try to send a message to offenders around here that they will get more than a slap on the wrist. At least we could keep them in jail for a little while...

  • 68_polara Feb 14, 2008

    Know what would make sense? If high bonds were applied or just out right denied to those accused of felonies and who have been previously convicted of felonies.

  • 68_polara Feb 14, 2008

    Wahoo!!! Now lets see if the liberal Durham county Judge Orlando Hudson is capable of making a common sense decision. It's not that a horrible number of violent felons live in Durham the problem is that's the public continues to be victimized by the same ones over and over again.