Local News

Durham DA Seeks Higher Bonds on Defendants

Posted February 13, 2008 7:08 p.m. EST
Updated February 13, 2008 8:01 p.m. EST

— 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."