Lawmakers couldn’t agree on a compromise measure to expand cash bail, and the legislative session expired with the matter still up in the air.
The Georgia House voted 95-81 on Wednesday to pass Senate Bill 63, which would have required cash or property bail for 31 additional crimes, including some misdemeanors. But the House and Senate could not agree on a final version, and the measure failed to pass as the 2023 session ended just after midnight Thursday.
Georgia already requires defendants to post cash or property to get out of jail for seven severe crimes, such as murder or rape. The measure would have added several crimes to the list, including passing a worthless check, reckless driving, and unlawful assembly.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has said he wants more restrictive bail conditions. That’s in line with how he and other Republicans bashed their Democratic opponents last year as soft on crime. Kemp is also backing other anti-crime proposals being put forward in Georgia this year, including longer sentences for some criminals.
Why Pretrial Release is Important
Immediate jail release is important for personal and legal reasons. But many people don’t realize how deep these personal and legal issues are.
To put it bluntly, jail sucks. Someone else dictates every minute of your daily schedule, and you have absolutely no freedom. Additionally, Georgia has one of the lowest per capita correctional institute budgets in the country. So, conditions at most facilities aren’t deplorable, but they aren’t very nice either.
Additionally, the mysterious condition that some people call the “jailhouse blues” is real. The aforementioned lack of freedom means that inmates have no stress outlet. Therefore, these stress hormones build up and often cause personality changes. Occasionally, incarceration causes positive personality changes. Usually, these changes are for the worse.
Legally, it’s almost impossible for a Marietta criminal defense lawyer to successfully resolve a jail case. Pandemic-era restrictions on attorney-client visits are still in place in many locations. The best attorney-client relationships are partnerships. Such a relationship is impossible under such circumstances.
Additionally, most people assume that when you do something wrong, you go to jail. So, the presumption of innocence almost becomes a presumption of guilt. Furthermore, because of the aforementioned brain injuries, many jail inmates aren’t thinking clearly. So, they accept unfavorable plea deals, just to “get it over with.”
Jail Release Options
These legal and personal reasons didn’t kill the expanded cash bail law. Generally, legislators don’t care about people who are in jail. Instead, statistics probably killed this proposal. Georgia has one of the highest percentages of unsentenced inmates in the country. So, the state’s limited prison budget must be spread even thinner.
In response, Cobb County officials have created three basic jail release methods. A Marietta criminal defense lawyer plays an important role in all three.
The newest form of pretrial release reduces nonviolent misdemeanors to the level of traffic tickets, at least for pretrial release purposes.
When people sign their traffic tickets, they agree to show up at trial, so the officer releases them. Likewise, if the defendant committed an eligible offense and agrees to abide by all pretrial release conditions, the sheriff releases them. These conditions usually include:
- Appearing at all required court dates, even if they’re just procedural hearings,
- Remaining in the county,
- Staying out of trouble with the law,
- Maintaining contact with a supervision officer,
- Avoiding “disreputable” persons or places, and
- Working and/or attending school full time.
Some of these conditions are subjective. We’re not sure what separates a “disreputable” habit from a reputable one. Other conditions are impossible to follow. For example, many people live in one county and work in another one.
A Marietta criminal defense attorney negotiates with pretrial release officials to obtain easier terms. Without such negotiations, pretrial release is nothing more than a shortcut to bond forfeiture.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. An attorney also expands the list of qualifying offenses, so more people have a chance to almost literally get out of jail free.
Generally, the more people pay for their freedom, the more they value it. So, the theory behind cash bail expansion is sound. Additionally, the cash bail expansion targeted violent and high-risk offenders. But even sound theories must give way to practical realities. Most people simply cannot afford cash bail, which means crowded jails get more crowded.
Basically, cash bail is like a security deposit. If you return the rented real or other property in good condition, the owner returns most of the deposit. Offenders who post cash bail get most of that money back, if they abide by all terms and conditions of bail. In both cases, if you don’t toe the line, you lose your money.
In addition to the generic conditions listed above, many counties impose offense-specific conditions. For example, an IID (ignition interlock device) is a common condition of DUI bail. An IID, or a blow-and-go, is a Breathalyzer attached to the ignition. A bad sample disables the ignition.
Cash bail amounts are often very high, even for misdemeanors. At a subsequent bail reduction hearing, a Marietta criminal defense attorney can often reduce the amount or even convert a cash bail to a bail bond. More on that below.
The most common form of jail release is like an insurance policy. If Tom has fire insurance and his house burns down, the fire insurance company bears the financial loss. If Tom has a bail bond and he doesn’t fulfill the conditions, the bonding company bears the financial risk.
As mentioned, these conditions are often oppressive. To ease these conditions, or to make bail available, a Marietta criminal defense lawyer schedules a bail reduction hearing. At this hearing, the judge considers a number of factors to decide upon reasonable jail release terms, such as:
- Severity of the offense,
- Defendant’s criminal record,
- Defendant’s ability to pay,
- Defendant’s contacts with the community, and
- Defendant’s threat to the community.
Frequently, these matters settle out of court. For example, a prosecutor might agree to lower bail if the defendant agrees to wear an ankle bracelet.
Immediate jail release usually makes a successful resolution possible. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We routinely handle matters in Cobb County and nearby jurisdictions.