City's bail bond industry to be studied

The Baltimore Sun

A contentious debate yesterday among city leaders and criminal justice officials over how best to track statistics for gun offenders evolved into an agreement to tackle another task: studying the bail bond industry in Baltimore, which is criticized for enabling potentially violent offenders to easily regain freedom after their arrests.

Patricia C. Jessamy, the city state's attorney, raised the issue of studying the city's bail bond industry at the monthly meeting of Baltimore's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Noting recent cases in the city, Jessamy said 12 people have been indicted as part of a scheme to use the same properties as collateral to help set free "many, many, many different defendants" from jail.

"This system is in shambles in the state," Jessamy said, who was tapped to lead a subcommittee on the issue.

Attempts to reform the state's bail bond system have foundered in past years, in part because of the industry's lobbying efforts in Annapolis. Yesterday, Jessamy complained about a loophole that has persisted for years in which a bondsman is hired to post 10 percent of a defendant's bail. But the bondsman might require that the person pay back the amount in smaller increments later.

Jessamy gave an example of a judge setting bail for a defendant at $500,000, and the person being allowed to post 10 percent - or $50,000 - with the help of a bail bonds company. But, Jessamy said, it isn't against the law for a defendant to pay that $50,000 on what she described as an "installment plan."

"It's a mockery of the bail bond system," Jessamy said.

Questions about the bail bond system periodically surface because it is not uncommon for people with extensive criminal arrest histories to be released on bail and be caught again with an illegal gun, even as they await trial in previous cases.

That scenario happened in January in the fatal shooting of Officer Troy L. Chesley Sr. outside his girlfriend's home after he had finished his shift. Police believe the shooting was the result of a botched robbery, and they arrested and charged a man who had been freed on two separate bails - totaling $145,000 - while awaiting trial on two previous charges of illegal possession of handguns.

Mayor Sheila Dixon said yesterday that tackling gun crime is a problem for members of the committee to solve together.

Through yesterday afternoon, 75 people had been victims of homicide in the city - nearly all in handgun violence - compared with 74 victims last year during the same period.

"I brought this issue to the CJCC's attention ... because we need to work together in order to reduce gun violence," Dixon said, in calling for greater collaboration among city agencies to help better prosecute gun crimes.

Dixon's monthly report to the committee disclosed an analysis of arrests of suspects charged with gun crimes for the first three months of this year. But Jessamy criticized parts of the report for not being accurate in its portrayal of gun crime statistics.

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