By Paul DeMarco
One of the major issues Alabama leaders will address in the year 2020 is criminal justice reform.
Overcrowding and violence in the state’s prisons are under scrutiny from the United States Justice Department. Thus, there is pressure for the governor and legislative leadership to look for a solution during the upcoming session.
There is already a plan underway to build more prisons in the state. However, there will also be a push to reduce the population in the correction’s facilities by reducing sentencing for some criminal activity and decriminalizing other offenses. Legislators need to listen to state prosecutors, law enforcement and victim’s rights advocates before they weaken any of the state’s criminal laws. Actually, legislators needs to strengthen the state’s criminal laws to protect the public.
One instance, is when it comes to those accused of violent crimes being released on bond.
This past week the suspect in the kidnapping of Homewood native Aniah Blanchard was arrested by U.S. Marshals in Florida. The accused, Ibraheem Yazeed is in a Lee County jail after waiving extradition back to Alabama to face felony charges. He was already awaiting trial on separate charges of a recent kidnapping, robbery and attempted murder of a 77-year-old man in Montgomery. His arrest record prior to that is lengthy.
The question everyone should be asking is: Why was Yazeed allowed out on bond after his arrest for such violent crimes?
Currently, Alabama law allows judges to set a bond based on a list of factors. A recommended bond schedule is provided for crimes based on the class and degree of the charged offense. A setting of no bond is only permissible in capital murder cases. Only a very small number of homicide cases are capital crimes punishable by death.
If a defendant violates the conditions of bond or probation, the judge can order they be held with no bond regardless of the charge.
The reality is that there should be more consideration of an arrestee’s prior record and/or propensity for violence in the initial determination of bond. In most counties, bond is initially given by a magistrate with little knowledge of the arrestee’s criminal or violent background. The magistrate is usually a court clerk designated as a magistrate to set bond and they typically will apply the standard bond recommendation absent some specific knowledge about the arrestee.
The Alabama State Legislature needs to revisit the state bond laws. One change should be that those charged with serious violent crimes, especially repeat offenders, receive a much higher bond range or no bond. Judges need to have the discretion to give no bond in any violent class A and Class B felonies. We have seen case after case of violent felons bonding out of jail in a revolving door fashion and committing another crime shortly after their feet hit the pavement.
This needs to be addressed now to protect our state citizens and keep violent felons behind bars.
Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives.