Skip to comments.Suspects post bail and vanish (Dumb liberal Judges)
Posted on 03/09/2009 5:50:13 PM PDT by SandRat
On Jan. 31, Counter Narcotics Alliance officers raided a house, seized hundreds of pounds of marijuana and arrested a man on federal probation who was also suspected of taking part in a home invasion.
State and federal prosecutors pleaded with the judge to hold him without bail while they got a federal warrant for the probation violation. The judge refused and set bail at $20,000 after his attorney objected that $75,000 was too much.
The man, Francisco S. Perez, posted the $20,000 and disappeared only to be caught Wednesday with a cache of weapons, including an assault rifle, body armor, marijuana and other drugs.
This time he is being held without bail, Deputy Pima County Attorney Richard Wintory said.
Perez's story is not uncommon, said Wintory, who contends judges often set bail too low because they rely on questionable information or mistaken perceptions. To prove his point, Wintory had staff members compile statistics on bail conditions set in all Counter Narcotics Alliance cases for the past five years.
They found nearly a quarter of those arrested by the alliance disappear after they are released, Wintory said a statistic he calls especially alarming because they may be among the most dangerous offenders in the community.
While their motivation is drug running, the nature of the business frequently involves weapons, violent assaults, home invasions, kidnappings for ransom and even murder sometimes with innocent victims caught up in the crossfire.
Rick Peck, Pretrial Services director, could not verify Wintory's numbers but noted that 16 percent of those arrested for all types of crimes in Pima County abscond after being released from jail.
When judges set bail, they are supposed to consider the charges, family ties, employment, financial resources, criminal record, length of time in the community and history of making past court dates. Much of that information is gathered by Pretrial Services.
Wintory believes judges give too little consideration to the type of charges Counter Narcotics Alliance defendants are facing.
More significantly, he believes judges rely too heavily on information Pretrial Services gets from defendants' families about their community ties without independent verification.
"It isn't their ties to the community we should be concerned about," he said. "It's that they have resources and an interest in staying in business. The absconders we've caught are caught committing more of the same types of crimes."
Counter Narcotics Alliance defendants, if convicted, almost always face mandatory prison time, Wintory said. Yet if a defendant's wife says the defendant has lived in the same house and worked for the same employer for decades, her word is taken at face value without verification.
Too many times, detectives later learn the defendant's address is non-existent and the claimed employer has never heard of the defendant, he said.
"We're convicting better than 97 percent of those we arrest most of them through plea agreements but we can't negotiate a guilty plea with a guy who is in Hermosillo," Wintory said. "We also can't wait until we catch them again to try them because witnesses disappear and memories fade." Targeting drug gangs Wintory is one of two county prosecutors who work with the Counter Narcotics Alliance, a task force that targets people closely associated with drug cartels, Jamaican drug-trafficking organizations and other large drug networks.
Here is one statistic he discovered: Of the Counter Narcotics Alliance's arrestees who run, the largest share 33 percent are those who actually posted bail.
The rest vanished after being released on their own recognizance or to a Pretrial Services monitoring program.
A few show up again, but only when they're arrested for committing another serious crime, such as in Francisco Perez's case, Wintory said.
County Attorney Barbara LaWall said she suspects drug dealers flee more frequently than most suspects because they put up cash. Other defendants put up the equity in their homes or the homes of their loved ones and are unwilling to lose their property to a bail bondsman if they run.
Wintory also determined that of the 526 people Counter Narcotics detectives have arrested over the last five years, 304 have been released on bail, on their own recognizance or to Pretrial Services.
A third of those who took flight after posting bail vanished before they were arraigned, Wintory said. That means they hadn't been officially informed of the charges against them and given an opportunity to say "not guilty," so they can't be tried in absentia. If his numbers are accurate, they are a "cause for concern" and need to be looked into, Presiding Tucson City Court Judge Tony Riojas said.
But Riojas and Pretrial Services Director Peck defended Pretrial Services, saying the department does a good job compiling information for judges in a short time.
Peck said he doesn't believe there is a widespread problem with absconders in the general population. He wouldn't comment on Wintory's figures for the more dangerous Counter Narcotics Alliance defendants because his office doesn't separate the numbers that way.
The law requires judges to conduct initial-appearance hearings within 24 hours of someone's arrest. In Pima County, initial-appearance hearings are held every day at 9 a.m and 8 p.m..
If a suspect is arrested at 5 p.m., court and Pretrial Services policy requires all of the necessary background checks by 8 p.m. Since 200 people are booked into the jail daily, it is quite a feat, Peck said.
If a suspect's place of business is closed for the night, the Pretrial Services employee has to rely on relatives for employment and address information, Peck said.
Peck believes most relatives provide accurate information, and to assume they won't is wrong.
"You're telling me that just because a defendant is charged with drugs the wife is going to lie to me, and I have a problem making that jump," Peck said.
Even if they had more employees and more time, Peck said, he doesn't believe the absconder rate would fall. Peck said moving hearings to later in the morning, after businesses open, so employment information can be verified won't change anything because someone will always be arrested an hour before the deadline.
Although there are two hearings each day, he said Pretrial Services workers try to make the first available hearing to avoid jail overcrowding.
Peck said there would also be no point in asking someone vouching for a defendant to provide a pay stub, worker ID card, utility bill, piece of mail with the defendant's name and address or property tax information to verify a defendant is employed or lives where he says.
"They might not have the means or desire to come to court or supply the (information)," Peck said, or they may not have jobs, property or bills in their own name.
"I think we're doing a pretty good job with the resources we've got, and I think the judges, overall, are making good decisions about who should be released and who should not be released," Peck said.
The more info, the better Judges determine the amount of a defendant's bail, and Peck and Riojas said detectives and prosecutors are welcome to share any information they have with the judges. They can also ask to delay initial appearances so they can gather more information as long as it remains within the 24-hour time frame.
"The more information we have, the better decision we can make," Riojas said.
Wintory believes bail should be high enough that bail bondsmen will have an incentive to go after the defendants if they jump, or that defendants have to put up property they can't afford to lose to make bail.
Sgt. Mark Morelock, a Counter Narcotics Alliance detective, said he believes bail amounts should be equal to the value of the drugs seized from the defendant.
"If they are caught with $500,000 worth of marijuana, the bond should be at least that amount," Morelock said. "If they can traffic that much marijuana, they can certainly post a $7,500 bond."
High bail won't stop everyone from running, Wintory said, but it might deter some.
"There are defendants who are themselves high-level operators, or they are valuable enough to their employers that it's worth it to the organization to post and eat the bond," Wintory said.
Once a defendant shows up for his arraignment, judges assume he will continue to show up, so they deny requests for higher bail, Wintory said. However, the statistics gathered by Wintory's staff show two-thirds of those who run take flight after their arraignments. Many sit all the way through their trials.
"We call it the Tucson Tango. They wait until the jury goes out, and as soon as deliberations begin they beat feet to Nogales," Wintory said. "If it's an acquittal they come back, but if it's a conviction they just walk across the port of entry."
The solution could be a bail schedule, Wintory said. In some jurisdictions, bails are set by crime category; the bail is the same for everyone who commits the same crime, unless he or she has a prior conviction or record of absconding.
In Pima County some judges set a $1,000 bail for every pound of marijuana seized, and others set a $7,500 bail regardless of whether the suspect had 5 pounds of marijuana or 2,000 pounds, he complained.
Presiding Pima County Superior Court Judge Jan Kearney said state lawmakers would have to change existing laws to implement a bail schedule, which she doesn't support because no two cases and no two defendants are alike. "It could mean people with substantive community ties and every incentive to be present in court would be taking up beds in the jail," Kearney said.
LaWall said she would like to explore what can be done to decrease the number of bail jumpers by working with the Justice Coordinating Council, whose members represent the County Attorney's Office, the Legal and Public Defender's offices, law enforcement agencies and courts.
"I think this is a huge issue. People are not going to be happy so many people are posting bond and skipping," LaWall said.
On StarNet: For more images from this story, visit azstarnet.com/slideshows
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dumb Americans - for putting up with this crap for so long.
articles could get posted 100 times a day and never bother me...
I agree with you.
What makes you think the judge is dumb? Has anyone looked into his financial records lately?
It took Wintory FIVE years to catch on?
What an idiot.
He was the first line of defense, and he's blown it.