Bail reform comes to Lakewood Municipal Court
By Peter Krouse, cleveland.com
LAKEWOOD, Ohio – Municipal Court Judge Pat Carroll has stopped using a fixed schedule to set bail because he believes it can be unfairly applied and result in the needless jailing of poor defendants.
The Lakewood court’s schedule, similar to schedules used by many of the other municipal courts in Ohio, listed bail amounts for various crimes that could be applied to suspects arrested at times when the court was not in session.
In a phone interview and email exchange with cleveland.com, Carroll said he changed his policy based in part on evidence he has witnessed in his own court.
In the past, someone charged with drunken driving by a Lakewood officer would need to post $364 to get out of Lakewood Jail, he said. But if a state trooper makes the arrest in Lakewood, the suspect is processed at another location and could be released to the custody of a sober adult without having to post bail.
And the rate at which suspects fail to appear for court hearings has not been significantly different between those who posted bail and those who did not, wrote Carroll in an email. “As such, the bond serves little other purpose than a down payment for a fine if the defendant is later found guilty.”
Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer have been advocating for bail reform through its ongoing Justice for All series that began in 2016. The series included a report on the unfair nature of bond schedules, which are based solely on the charge against a suspect rather than whether the suspect poses a risk to society.
Carroll believes basing bail “solely on the level of offense” has become outdated. Someone with a mental illness or drug addiction could pose a threat to themselves or the community even if the offense they have been charged with is minor. Conversely, someone facing a more serious charge may have a responsible job and no criminal record, suggesting a strong likelihood of following a judge’s orders.
“In many cases, conditions of bond, such as no firearms or contact with the victim, continued treatment programs, and other conditions with pretrial monitoring are more effective than posting cash to get out of jail,” Carroll wrote.
Carroll said his probation department is able to provide the assistance required in some instances, but that he eventually will ask the Lakewood City Council for more money to conduct pretrial services.
Carroll also recognizes that a fixed bond schedule could force someone to remain in jail simply because of an inability to come up with the money. Not only is this unfair to the defendant, Carroll wrote, but it adds to the “taxpayers’ burden to support the operation of the jail.”
Carroll said that he or a magistrate will continue to set bonds for all felonies and for more serious misdemeanors, such as domestic violence or violation of a protection order, but that all other defendants can be released without bail.
If the policy dictates that bail must be set by a judge or magistrate, the police or prosecutor will be required to contact the court within 48 hours. They also must provide the judge with detailed information, such as a defendant’s criminal history, driving record, issues of mental health or substance abuse, occupation and/or source of income and any active warrants or pending protection orders against them.
Carroll said he developed his customized method of risk-assessment based on his experience and through discussions with others, including former Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Ron Adrine, who spearheaded bail reform in Cleveland. The Cleveland court has adopted the well-known Arnold Foundation method for assessing whether a suspect poses a risk if released on bail.
Carroll said he would like to adopt a formal risk-assessment program if only because the person who takes his place one day may not have his level of experience. Carroll became Lakewood municipal judge in February of 1990 and is in his last term.
Carroll said he would like to see other municipal courts adopt bail policies similar to the one he now has in place, but that some judges like bail schedules because they view them as a deterrents to crime. Carroll doesn’t think that’s the case.
Nobody chooses where to get in a bar fight based on the bond schedule of the local municipal court, he said, adding that most people don’t even know such schedules exist.