Accused criminals in Montgomery County may soon be able to avoid jail time while awaiting trial thanks to a recent administrative order aimed at reforming the bond system.
Signed on September 22 by 15th Circuit Court Judge Johnny Hardwick, the administrative order would eliminate bond for certain felonies and misdemeanors, according to an Alabama Daily News report. It's set to go into effect this Saturday.
The order applies only to Montgomery County, but Hardwick on Tuesday told Alabama Daily News he "hopes it will serve as a model for bond reform statewide."
Hardwick told Alabama Daily News that low-income people are disproportionately affected by the current bond system.
"If you don't have any money, you can't get out of jail," Hardwick told the outlet. "… (There are) low-level offenses where people don't need to be languishing in jail where they may lose their employment, which creates a whole host of other problems."
According to Hardwick's order, suspects charged with non-violent Class B felonies such as theft of lost property in the first degree, theft of services in the first degree, cargo theft, criminal possession of a forged instrument in the first degree, theft by charitable fraud, and identity theft "shall be released on their own recognizance following booking and without an initial appearance."
The order also states "persons charged with a non-violent traffic or misdemeanor offense" may be released without bond.
The order lists a total of 68 violent offenses that don't qualify for release without bond, including murder, rape, assault and child abuse.
Barry Matson, executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association, told Alabama Daily News the order was "poorly drafted," and his organization is "reviewing ways" to challenge it.
According to the order, bail won't apply to non-violent Class D and C felonies, and Matson said, "DAs think that could allow for offenses involving child pornography, cruelty to animals or ethics violations to get a signature bond."
Matson told Alabama Daily News while the order lists several Class A felonies that don't qualify for a signature bond, the list isn't all-encompassing, and he doubts that signature bonds would be enough to guarantee defendants show up for court appearances.
"We are definitely going to challenge this somehow," Matson told the outlet.
Matson told 1819 News on Tuesday afternoon his organization hadn't filed a challenge to the order yet, but would soon.
"We've made some additional observations," Matson said. "A victim certainly could (challenge the order)... I think there could be somebody from the public once the order takes hold and certainly from us beforehand. We haven't done that yet. We're working on it."
Bail and bond reform has been a project of various progressive and even some so-called "right-on-crime" conservative groups across the nation. Illinois is on track to end cash bail for some offenses beginning in 2023.
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