CULLMAN – Cullman County’s circuit and district judges recently decided to update the county’s bail bond schedule, which had been in effect since 2016. Several drug-related offenses on the schedule have had bond amounts drastically reduced, and two lesser offenses–criminal littering and consumption/possession of alcohol by a minor–were reduced from monetary bonds to release on recognizance.
An official with the county court system explained that suspects who receive high initial bond amounts for those particular offenses typically have the amounts reduced at subsequent hearings, so the new schedule is an effort to bring the initial bond amounts in line with the bond amounts those suspects would end up with anyway.
Several crimes involving violent behavior or threats of violent behavior have had their bond amounts retained, but they have been amended to include a provision that the suspect can have no contact with the alleged victim.
Three new categories have been added to the schedule: harassment/harassing communications, reckless driving and violation of a protection from abuse order.
The Cullman County Bond Schedule
- Felony – category of serious crimes (Fel. on chart)
- Misdemeanor – category of crimes considered to be minor offenses (Mis. on chart)
- Violation – lowest category of minor crimes, including traffic tickets and others (Viol. on chart)
- Degree – first, second, third, or fourth; the seriousness of a crime which may occur in different forms. First degree is the most serious. (1d, 2d, 3d, 4d on chart)
- Class – A, B, C, or D; like degree, refers to the seriousness of an offense. Class A is the most serious. (cA, cB, cC, cD on chart)
- ROR – suspect released on his or her own recognizance, without bond
Bond Schedule in effect since Jan. 30, 2016
Bold indicates changes made on the Mar. 19, 2018 schedule.
- Assault 1d, Fel. cB – $10,000…Now $10,000 plus no contact with victim
- Assault 2d, Fel. cC – $5,000…Now $5,000 plus no contact with victim
- Assault 3d, Mis. cA – $3,000…Now $3,000 plus no contact with victim
- Attempting to Elude, Mis. cA – $3,000…no change
- Attempting to Elude with injury/fatality, Fel. cC – $5,000…no change
- Burglary 1d, Fel. cA – $20,000…no change
- Burglary 2d, Fel. cB – $10,000…no change
- Burglary 3d, Fel. cC – $5,000…no change
- Carrying Concealed Weapon, no category/class listed – $750…no change
- Carrying Pistol without Permit, no category/class listed – $750…no change
- Contributing to Delinquency of Minor, no category/class listed – $500…Now $500 plus no contact with victim
- Criminal Littering, Mis. cC – $500…Now changed to ROR
- Criminal Mischief 1d, Fel. cC – $5,000…no change
- Criminal Mischief 2d, Mis. cA – $3,000…no change
- Criminal Mischief 3d, Mis. cB – $1,000…no change
- Criminal Trespass 1d, Mis. cA – $3,000…no change
- Criminal Trespass 2d, Mis. cC – $1,000…no change
- Criminal Trespass 3d, Viol. – $500…no change
- Discharge Firearm into Occupied Dwelling/Vehicle, Fel. cC – $5,000…Now $5,000 plus no contact with victim
- Disorderly Conduct, Mis. cC – $500…no change
- Domestic Violence 3d, Mis. cA – $1,500…Now $1,500 plus no contact with victim
- Domestic Violence Assault, Mis. cA – $1,500…Now $1,500 plus no contact with victim
- Domestic Violence Harassment, Mis. cA – $1,500…Now $1,500 plus no contact with victim
- DUI, Fel. – $5,000…no change
- DUI, Mis. – $2,000…no change
- Felon in Possession of Firearm, Fel. cC – $5,000…no change
- Forgery/Possession of Forged Instrument 1d, Fel. cB – $10,000…no change
- Forgery/Possession of Forged Instrument 2d, Fel. cC – $5,000…no change
- Forgery/Possession of Forged Instrument 3d, Fel. cD – $4,000…no change
- Forgery/Possession of Forged Instrument 4d, Mis. cA – $3,000…no change
- Fraudulent Use of Credit Card, Fel. cD – $4,000…no change
- Giving False Information to Law Enforcement Officer, Mis. cB – $1,000…no change
- Harassment/Harassing Communications (not on 2016 schedule), Mis. cC – $1,500 plus no contact with victim
- Illegal Possession of Alcohol/Public Intoxication, Viol. – $250…no change
- Illegal Possession of Prescription Medication, Mis. cA – $3,000…no change
- Leaving Scene of Accident with Injuries, Fel. cC – $5,000…no change
- Leaving Scene of Accident without Injuries, Mis. cB – $1,000…no change
- Menacing, Mis. cA – $3,000…Now Mis. cB – $3,000 plus no contact with victim
- Minor in Possession/Consumption of Alcohol, Mis. cC – $500…Now ROR after 24 hours
- Obstructing Justice/Using False ID, Fel. cC – $5,000…no change
- Open House Party, Mis. cB – $1,000…no change
- Possession of Burglary Tools, Fel. cC – $5,000…no change
- Promoting Prison Contraband 1d, Fel. cB – $10,000…no change
- Promoting Prison Contraband 2d, Fel. cC – $5,000…no change
- Promoting Prison Contraband 3d, Mis. cA – $3,000…no change
- Rape 1d, Fel. cA – $20,000…Now $20,000 plus no contact with victim
- Rape 2d, Fel. cB – $10,000…Now $10,000 plus no contact with victim
- Receiving Stolen Property 1d, Fel. cB – $10,000…no change
- Receiving Stolen Property 2d, Fel. cC – $5,000…no change
- Receiving Stolen Property 3d, Fel. cD – $4,000…no change
- Receiving Stolen Property 4d, Mis. cA – $3,000…no change
- Reckless Endangerment, Mis. cA – $3,000…no change
- Reckless Driving (not on 2016 schedule), no category or class listed – $500
- Resisting Arrest, Mis. cB – $1,000…no change
- Theft of Property 1d, Fel. cB – $10,000…no change
- Theft of Property 2d, Fel. cC – $5,000…no change
- Theft of Property 3d, Fel. cD – $4,000…no change
- Theft of Property 4d, Mis. cA – $3,000…no change
- Traffic Violations, Viol. – $300…no change
- Trafficking Illegal Drugs, Fel. cC – $1,000,000…Now $500,000
- Unlawful Breaking and Entering of a Motor Vehicle, Fel. cC – $5,000…no change
- Unlawful Distribution of a Controlled Substance, Fel. cB – $20,000…no change
- Unlawful Manufacturing of a Controlled Substance 1d, Fel. cA – $1,000,000…Now $500,000
- Unlawful Manufacturing of a Controlled Substance 2d, Fel. cB – $1,000,000…Now $500,000
- Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance, Fel. cD – $4,000…no change
- Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, Mis. cB – $1,000…Now $300
- Unlawful Possession of Marijuana not for personal use 1d, Fel. cC – $5,000…no change
- Unlawful Possession of Marijuana for personal use 1d, Fel. cD – $4,000…no change
- Unlawful Possession of Marijuana 2d, Mis. cA – $2,000…Now $500
- Violation of Protection from Abuse Order (not on 2016 schedule), Mis. cA – $1,500 plus no contact with victim
Bond amounts for murder, attempted murder and manslaughter are set by judges on a case-by-case basis.
General Bond Schedules for offenses not listed
- Class A felony…$10,000 to $60,000
- Class B felony…$5,000 to $30,000
- Class C felony…$2,500 to $15,000
- Class D felony…$1,000 to $10,000
- Class A misdemeanor…$300 to $6,000
- Class B misdemeanor…$300 to $3,000
- Class C misdemeanor…$300 to $1,000
- Violation…$300 to $500
- Class A felony…$30,000
- Class B felony…$15,000
- Class C felony…$10,000
- Class D felony…$5,000
- Class A misdemeanor…$3,000
- Class B misdemeanor…$1,500
- Class C misdemeanor…$500
- Violation…Released on Own Recognizance
What is a bail bond?
Bail is an amount of money paid, or property pledged to a court to secure the release of an accused person prior to hearings or trials. It is given to help guarantee that the defendant shows up at court when he or she is supposed to do so. Bonds can take three main forms:
- Recognizance bond – For cases in which the bail amount might be very low and the defendant is considered to be a low flight risk, that person might simply sign a pledge to pay a certain fine if the court date is missed.
- Property bond – The defendant or others acting on his or her behalf sign over interest in real property of a given dollar value to secure the defendant’s release. Think of it as a temporary mortgage to the court. These are often set with high dollar amounts.
- Cash bond – The defendant or others acting on his or her behalf must deposit actual money with the court. This is where bail bondsmen often come in. These bonds are often much lower than property bonds, but can be more difficult to procure, since they require actual money in-hand.
Upon completion of the case, the money is returned or property reverts to the owner’s control. If the defendant fails to appear in court on the set date, cash money is forfeited and property can be seized.
Who has a right to bail?
The 8th Amendment contained in the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution reads:
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
Article 1, sec. 16 of the 1901 Constitution of the State of Alabama reads:
“That all persons shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, except for capital offenses, when the proof is evident or the presumption great; and that excessive bail shall not in any case be required.”
Section 7.2 of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedures (ARCP) begins:
“Any defendant charged with an offense bailable as a matter of right may be released pending or during trial on his or her personal recognizance or on an appearance bond unless the court or magistrate determines that such a release will not reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance as required, or that the defendant’s being at large will pose a real and present danger to others or to the public at large.”
Defendants have a right to be released on bond pending hearings and trials, unless they are charged with capital offenses or the judge/magistrate considers them to be flight risks or threats to the community.
Judges are given wide leeway in assigning bail amounts. To a degree, it’s a judgment call (no pun intended) on their part, but it’s an educated judgment call informed by numerous factors.
Fair v. excessive bail
So how does the system determine what is fair and what is excessive? The ARCP sets forth guidelines to be considered when imposing bail:
- The age, background and family ties, relationships and circumstances of the defendant
- The defendant’s reputation, character and health
- The defendant’s prior criminal record, including prior releases on recognizance or on secured appearance bonds, and other pending cases
- The identity of responsible members of the community who will vouch for the defendant’s reliability
- Violence or lack of violence in the alleged commission of the offense
- The nature of the offense charged, the apparent probability of conviction, and the likely sentence, insofar as these factors are relevant to the risk of nonappearance
- The type of weapon used
- Threats made against victims and/or witnesses
- The value of property taken during the alleged commission of the offense
- Whether the property allegedly taken was recovered or not; damage or lack of damage to property allegedly taken
- Residence of the defendant, including consideration of real property ownership, and length of residence in his or her place of domicile
- In cases where the defendant is charged with a drug offense, evidence of selling or pusher activity should indicate a substantial increase in the amount of bond. (More on this later)
- Consideration of the defendant’s employment status and history, the location of defendant’s employment, e.g., whether employed in the county where the alleged offense occurred, and the defendant’s financial condition
- Any enhancement statutes related to the charged offense
These considerations lead to a few examples. In cases of similar offenses:
- A defendant who is young and healthy may get a higher amount than an elderly or ill defendant.
- A defendant who lives or has significant connections outside the state may get a higher amount than one whose roots are local.
- A repeat offender with a history of criminal behavior may get a higher amount than a first-time offender whose prior reputation was positive.
- A defendant with personal access to substantial financial resources may get a higher amount than a defendant who is poor.
- A defendant in a drug distribution or trafficking case is likely to get a higher amount than defendants in cases of other crimes within the same felony class.
The drug issue
Why do people charged with drug distribution/trafficking face such high bond amounts?
First, let us define “trafficking.” Drug trafficking involves possession of large amounts of a drug with intent to sell or distribute and carries substantially higher penalties than simple possession. It is based on amounts: the justice system assumes that possession of very small amounts would be for personal use. On the following table from the Code of Alabama section 13, the amounts shown are the minimum amounts of each drug that would lead to a trafficking charge. Many drugs are included in the Code; those common in the Cullman area are included here.
- Marijuana/Cannabis…………………………………….1 kilo/2.2 pounds
- Cocaine………………………………………………….28 grams/.99 ounces
- Opiates, including Morphine and Heroin……………….4 grams/.14 ounces
- Amphetamines………………………………………….28 grams
- Methamphetamine………………………………………28 grams
The Code and ARCP both note that persons arrested for trafficking who are found to be in possession of a firearm at the same time will face additional penalties, as will those arrested for distribution to minors or distribution within 3 miles of a school or public housing facility. These issues might also figure into bond considerations.
Statistics concerning drug defendants
Below are a few facts about drug defendants (those arrested but not yet convicted) from the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, that might shed some light on the system’s particular targeting of accused drug dealers for high bond amounts.
On average, more than 30 percent of defendants who are released while awaiting trial on drug charges will commit another similar offense before they go to trial.
Almost one in four federal drug defendants fail to show at scheduled court appearances.
Released drug defendants have the highest re-arrest rate of any defendant category.
Almost one-third of persons arrested for drug-related offenses will commit the same or a similar offense while awaiting trial. The commission of a second crime while out on bail can lead to the right to bail being revoked and may possibly result in bail paid or pledged being forfeited to the court. Therefore, high bail amounts for drug cases not only increase the chances of defendants showing up for court, they also encourage those most likely to repeat their offense to obey the law while they wait.
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