Monday, December 3, 2012

Bail Bonds and the Media: Objective Journalism or Pretrial Services Advocacy…You Decide

Last weekend a story was written in the San Francisco Weekly that discussed how pretrial detention ruins people’s lives.  The story spun the usual pretrial community anti-bail talking point stating that jails are overcrowded and people are languishing away in jail because they can’t afford a bail bond.   Also in usual fashion, the article puts the victim spotlight not on the actual crime victim but rather the defendant whose life has been ruined now that he is in jail.  This isn't the first story we have seen like this and I am certain it won’t be the last.  However there are a few things that I would like to point out about this particular story that are worth discussing, after all this is a bail bond blog post.

First, instead of going solely after the “evil bail bondsman” as these stories typically do, this story seems to be attacking the judicial system overall including the DA’s office and the judge who presided over this specific case.  This is an interesting and much more aggressive approach for the pretrial community…and a curious one at that.  The commercial bail industry sees itself as a vital component of the criminal justice system;  A component that works hand in hand with the DA’s office and judges.  We see and understand our role as facilitating the process of pretrial release and not as deciding who gets out and who doesn't get out.  If release is determined appropriate by a judge, the bail industry works with the family of the defendant based on that decision.  It is neither our role nor our place to question the judge’s experience and authority.  We find it curious that the pretrial community feels it is theirs.

Second, this article uses the specific case of defendant Anthony Dorton as an example of someone whose life was ruined because he was held pretrial until he was recently found not guilty by a jury.  The first problem with that approach is that the article is making a pretty big claim and basing it on one case.  There have literally been millions of cases over the years in which the pretrial process works exceptionally well, but the author of this article felt the need to use one case to make his point.  Second, if you were to read this article with that information and nothing else, it is easy to begin to feel badly for the defendant.  However, what the article fails to mention is that the defendant they are referring to is not as innocent as they would like you to believe.  In fact, the DA’s office still believes it had a strong case against the defendant and that more investigation is necessary.  So once again, by avoiding all the facts, the article is setting us up to make its predetermined point, regardless of the real facts.  The author essentially tries to create a victim out of the defendant…and that is disrespectful to the real crime victims. Here is a link to the story; “Advanced Pimpin' Expert Costs San Francisco $2K in Hotel Fees.”

Third, the reporter makes the same mistake that many people do when it comes to the “presumption of innocence” doctrine.  The article suggests that one of the reasons that pretrial detention is bad is that is violates a person’s right to the presumption of innocence.  Unfortunately that is a common misrepresentation by the pretrial community.  The presumption of innocence is a concept that is reserved for the courtroom.  It is not a concept that relates to protecting and serving the public and our communities.  If that were not the case, then law enforcement would never be able to make an arrest.  Why? Because they would have to assume that the person is innocent and did not commit the crime.  The reality is that law enforcement bases their actions on another doctrine…one referred to as “probable cause.”  Based on the evidence available to them at the time, they act based on whether there is enough probable cause to make an arrest.  So those individuals who are being detained in jail (which by the way is the purpose of jails in the first place, to detain individuals accused of a crime) are there because of probable cause, and the doctrine of innocent until proven guilty is not yet applicable until they enter the courtroom.

Lastly, to me the most upsetting part of this article is not what is in it, but rather what is not in it.  About three weeks ago, several individuals within the bail industry were asked to participate in a conference call with the author of the article.  Just the fact that someone was actually asking our side of the story was great.  It really gave me a sense of hope and optimism that finally, someone was going to write an honest and objective article about the bail bond industry and the real issues in the criminal justice system.  The group of bail representatives spent about an hour with the reporter.  They explained the bail process, the difference between the presumption of innocence and probable cause, gave statistics on the effectiveness of bail, our opinions on jail overcrowding, and so on.  We told our story the way it needed to be told…with facts, experience and professionalism.   Unfortunately, none of the information we provided was included in the story.

So here we are again…right back where we started this blog, with those in the pretrial community and those in support of their mission, continuing to spin a web of misinformation and pawn it off as fact.  Even when presented with the truth, they seem to find a way to either misrepresent it or disregard it all together.  The good news is that regardless of what they say and write, we still have the truth and facts on our side.  I look forward to your comments.


  1. Brian- I am so glad you mentioned the point about probable cause. It seems the Pretrial Services Community forgets that the accused defendant is in custody for a reason and that as a result of the "Probability" that the accused committed the crime. In order to fulfill their mandate, Judges set the bail based on the probability that the defendant will return to court so justice can be served. Bonding agencies and Surety companies weigh the probability of the risk in releasing defendants in order to mitigate losses and remain solvent. Driven by these mandates, Judges, Prosecutors, and Bonding Companies have a very limited amount of acceptable risk that they are willing to take when weighing this probability. Pretrial Service Agencies on the other hand take their "Evidence Based Practices" and release defendants with a false sense of security that they will appear, but like most government monopolies, there is nobody to be accountable to. If counties faced with pressures of jail overcrowding want to increase the amount of acceptable risk they are willing to take on, they ought to have their judges re-examine the bail schedules, or expand their bail deviation programs to adjust the bail to an appropriate amount, and still require a secured form of release instead of taking the own promise of a person where there was enough probable cause to make the arrest in the first place.

    1. Joel, thanks for the comment. I am glad you enjoyed the blog. Our team spent at least 15 minutes explaining the difference between the two concepts (presumption of innocence and probable cause) to the reporter...but unfortunately none of that made it in to the story.

    2. Brian, another great blog post. Kathy and I were also interviewed by the author of the story and none of our comments made it into the article.

      Hovever, the article wasn't published in the SF chronicle. It was published in SF weekly which has a much smaller circulation than the Chronicle.

      You know an article is unfairly biased against the commercial bail industry when it buries the following comment on the last page:

      "While the risk assessment wouldn't necessarily set guys like Dorton free, it could ensure them a fair shot based on facts."

      This whole anti-bail article is based around Dorton's anecdotal case and it turns out that even if a risk assessment OR program was in place, Dorton may not have qualified because of the seriousness of the charges against him.

      Guess what, high conviction rates clearly show that most defendants are guilty of the crimes they are charged with. The presumption of innocence does not mean that society has to be stupid and release mass numbers of defendants on OR so they can dodge court and punishment for their crimes.

  2. Is there any way that the bail industry can began to flood social and commericial media with our story? I agree 100 percent that the truth and facts our on our side. Right now we are the back ground noise. What platform exist that we can access to over shadow the stories that are floating around against us? Many bail agents are doing their best locally to get the ear and educate those that matter, but as we know the big machine of PTR is gainning momentum.

  3. You could attempt to flood the media with the other side of the story, but what good would it do? Those who have a problem with the Bail Industry or Criminal Justice system are going to refuse to believe facts or opinions that suggest their ideas or beliefs may be unjustifiably biased. The author or authors were willing to sit down and talk with those in the bail industry, gets facts and information, yet still disregard them because the information did not coincide with their preformed opinions. It's hopeless! You can educate them all you wan't, but the ignorant chiefs running the show will still spew their opinionated BS.
    Bail Bonds Sacramento

  4. Don't let the squeaky wheels get you down. I believe that the general public understands and supports bail. Here in Indiana not only were judges mandated to include public safety in determining bond, this mandate took the form of a state constitutional amendment as opposed to just enacting it as a statute.

    It is a matter of keeping what's going on in front of the public. This post does a great job of doing that.