Bill would make it harder for those on probation to get bond
Posted May 7, 2009 6:31 p.m. EDT
Updated May 7, 2009 8:08 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — People on probation who are arrested on a felony charge would have to appear before a judge to get bond under a bill in the North Carolina General Assembly.
Sen. John Snow, D-Cherokee, a former District Court judge, is pushing Senate Bill 1078, which would bypass a county magistrate and leave it to the court to decide if a release would pose a danger to the public.
The bill, which passed the Senate this week and has moved on to the state House of Representatives, means a suspect could be held temporarily for up to seven days in jail on both violent and nonviolent felony charges.
The proposed legislation is in response to criticism of the state's probation system that surfaced following the shooting deaths of local college students Abhijit Mahato, a Duke University graduate student, and Eve Carson, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill senior.
Demario James Atwater and Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., both suspects in Carson's death (Lovette is also charged in Mahato's death) were on probation at the time they were arrested.
An internal investigation into how probation officers monitored them raised alarm for state and local leaders. It led to more funding for probation officers across the state and a new Web-based system that puts information about offenders in the hands of law enforcement and court personnel more quickly.
"We want to make sure that (a probationer) is not a danger to the public before we let him loose on bond," Snow said of his bill.
Bob Hensley, a local attorney and former lawmaker, worries the bill could clog courts and jails and that it would take away too many rights for nonviolent suspects.
"I know what they're trying to do. I just think they're being overly broad in doing it," Hensley said. "To pass a law that says they have to be kept in jail for seven days until their safety can be checked out to the community is overly broad."
Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said he is willing to put up with the potentially high numbers of jailed suspects if it helps keep a closer eye on repeat offenders.
"It's better to be safe than sorry," he said. "It probably will clog up the jail. There will be some time in there we have to keep them. But if those type of people need to come off the street, then I'm all for it."
Snow conceded that he does not know if the bill could have saved the lives of Carson or Mahato, but it would have added another layer of probation review to the system, he said.