We’re still on the upswing of the coronavirus infections and deaths here in the United States, with Dr. Anthony Fauci telling Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski on Thursday that we’re not even to halftime yet in the fight against the virus. While health care workers, scientists, and manufacturers scramble to produce needed medical supplies, investigate possible treatment options, and provide care to those seriously ill from COVID-19, the country’s criminal justice system is already engaging in triage measures that are putting individuals accused of violent crimes back on the street with a slap on the wrist.
We reported earlier in the week about four teens in New York who were quickly released after allegedly beating and robbing a woman, thanks to New York’s bail reform laws. Even in Texas, however, the court system is now handing out ridiculously low bonds for some serious crimes.
From KTRK in Houston:
Kelvin Hawthorne, 18, is accused of punching and choking his girlfriend on Monday. Normally, that kind of crime gets a $1000 bond and often times it’s a personal recognizance bond, which means release from jail on the promise to return.
On Tuesday, a judge granted Hawthorne a $100 bond. He paid $10, had to agree to bond conditions and was released from jail.
Craig Jones, 55, is accused of hitting and choking his wife. He has prior violent convictions. The state requested a $10,000 bond. On Tuesday, a magistrate made it much lower, granting a $300 bond.
Timothy Singleton, 21, also has prior convictions. He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, after being accused of pulling a gun on his aunt’s neighbor. Singleton was granted a $500 bond, which means $50 would get him out of jail. Normally bond would be at least $20,000.
“Some of the cases I saw today, I almost fell off my chair in hysterical laughter,” said Andy Kahan, director of victim services and advocacy at Crime Stoppers of Houston. “Ten dollar bonds? One hundred dollar bonds? In some cases, violent felons are getting bonds I’ve never seen in my 30 years in the criminal justice system.”
Prosecutors argued against many of the low bonds, but according to KTRK at least one judge said she’s trying to comply with Gov. Greg Abbott’s order by not simply giving these suspects personal recognizance bonds, meaning the defendants wouldn’t have to post any cash to get out of jail. Frankly, I’m not sure what the real difference is between no cash bond and requiring someone to pay $10 to be released.
Kahan said he understands low-risk defendants being released from jail for fear coronavirus will spread rapidly. One inmate has tested positive, with two dozen tests pending and hundreds more inmates under observation. As many as 1,000 inmates, who meet certain criteria, will be released in the coming days.
Tori McFarland, 23, accused of robbery with bodily injury, a violent crime, got out of jail on a $10 bond.
Kahan said he will be watching who gets out of jail.
“That, to me, is a public safety crisis and we all know someone will pay the price,” he said.
We’re not talking about low-level crimes or even low-risk offenders here. We’re seeing guys with prior arrests in court for violent offenses who are walking out after handing over a Hamilton in exchange for their freedom.
Much like Kahan, the victim’s advocate, I too am worried about the public safety crisis that could be sparked by these measures. At least in Texas gun stores remain open and any Texan concerned for their own security can still purchase a firearm and ammunition for self-defense. What happens in states like Massachusetts, where gun stores have been ordered closed and the state’s highest court is weighing releasing large numbers of inmates? Or California, where judges are considering the mass release of inmates? Unfortunately it’s highly likely that the low bonds in Harris County, Texas will soon be the norm in courtrooms all around the nation.