High profile attorney Kenneth Ravenell used choice words for a judge who took bail away from a client accused of gunning down a man in a brutal homicide in Fell’s Point last year — a decision Mr. Ravenell called a “farce.” But the true disgrace was that Phillip Stanley West was ever given the opportunity to leave jail in the first place, a decision by a different judge that once again showed the fallacies of a bail system where those with money can buy their freedom, no matter how vile and atrocious the crime.
Phillip Stanley West is charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of Rodney Beamon Jr. at the Blarney Stone Pub in the popular hangout neighborhood in December.
Bail is pretty uncommon for those accused of murder, but Mr. Ravenell, known for his prowess in the court room, skillfully convinced Baltimore District Judge Michael Studdard that Mr. West was not a safety risk because he had no history of violence and that he was not a flight risk because he turned himself in and owned property in Baltimore.
Mr. West is still due his day in court. But the case police laid out so far surely doesn’t depict a non-violent person. Police have accused him of shooting the victim multiple times — an act they said they caught on video and confirmed with witnesses. A witness told police that after firing the shots, Mr. West defiantly muttered he “would not be disrespected.” If police are right, Baltimore is a safer place with him off the streets.
Kudos to Circuit Judge Charles Peters for reversing the decision of a previous judge, and the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office for using a routine hearing to outplay Mr. Ravenell, who was clearly caught off guard by the switch and got into an argument with the judge that almost led to a contempt charge.
It is hard to feel sympathy for Mr. West, who posted bail, set at $100,000, and was sent home with an electronic monitoring device. Prosecutors said the private company monitoring him wasn’t always reporting when he left the house. Mr. Ravenell argued it was to see the doctor, but if that is the case, why hide it? Mr. West was lucky to get bail in the first place and should have played by the rules.
At any rate, had Mr. West not had the deep pockets to buy his way out of jail, and had access to one of the best defense attorneys in the state, he would have been behind bars a long time ago.
Too many low-income defendants, accused of non-violent crimes, often sit in jail because they can’t afford to pay bail or the high-priced attorneys that can persuade a judge to let them go until trial. While they wait in jail, they can’t work and may get kicked out their housing and hurt familial relationships. In some cases their lives are turned upside down only to have their cases dropped. Many of those affected are low-income and minority, a population already marginalized by society.
Like in the glaring case of Antonio Muhammad, who sat behind bars in Baltimore for weeks in 2015 after being charged with burglary during the unrest after Freddie Gray’s death. All because he couldn’t afford a $2,500 bail. In fact, as The Sun has reported in the past, bail amounts set for those charged with inciting a riot after Mr. Gray’s death ranged from zero to $500,000, which was more than that set for the police officers charged at the time in his death.
The cash bail system is inherently flawed, and there are better, fairer, more just ways to keep the public safe and ensure defendants appear for trial. We can’t say that often enough. But judges also need to do the right thing, and in this case, Judge Peters did.
Mr. Ravenell has argued his client is not the first person accused of murder to get out of jail. That may be the case. But that doesn’t make it right or fair.
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