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J. Larry Crawford: Setting bond is key issue in magistrate race

Oct. 08, 2012 @ 11:30 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one of a series of columns written by candidates in contested races in the Nov. 6 general election.

When talking with Cabell County citizens about the magistrate court system, one issue voiced most often concerned bail bonds for criminal defendants. Those victimized and many law enforcement officers adamantly feel criminals should not be released on bond but should remain in custody throughout an entire criminal proceeding. To the contrary, family members and friends of defendants feel release on bond should be immediate. Because of jail overcrowding and the costs associated with housing defendants, releasing defendants on bond is encouraged by those who have budget responsibilities.

The decision of bond is major for magistrates. Many factors must be considered before the amount of bond is set. One is that the community must be protected from any additional criminal activity by a defendant. Regardless, not everyone will be satisfied when bail bonds are set.

During my career as a federal probation officer, one of my duties was submitting information to the judges and magistrates so decisions could be made for a defendant's release on bond. This information would contain any previous criminal record, personal history and the defendant's ties to the community. Based on my investigation, a report would be prepared which would include a recommendation as to whether a defendant should be released. I believe my experience in this area would be extremely beneficial to me as a magistrate for Cabell County.

In the federal courts, all defendants must be released on a bond they can reach unless the court makes the determination the defendant is a risk of flight or a risk of danger to the community. Without a definitive ruling on one of these factors, a defendant must be allowed to execute a bond which they can afford. The main distinction in federal court is that all defendants released on bond are placed under pretrial supervision of a probation officer. This is similar to probation supervision except the defendant has not been convicted of a crime. Should a defendant violate any of the conditions of supervision, the court can revoke the bond. Should a defendant commit another crime while on bond, this is a separate crime in and of itself and results in a consecutive sentence being imposed after the conviction and sentence on the original offense.

When I become elected as a magistrate, I will ask for a defendant's criminal record before deciding on the issue of a bail bond. With the current databases available to law enforcement, records can be obtained quickly and should not delay the decision-making process. For defendants with previous convictions, the amount of bond set will be increased accordingly.

During the latter part of my 30-year career with the courts, I was the site director for the Western Regional Day Report Center. One of my duties was the supervision of defendants placed on bond by the magistrate court. As a magistrate, I would utilize this option to a greater degree for defendants who have a criminal history and who have a history of the abuse or addiction to illicit controlled substances. I believe that some defendants who would not be regularly released on bond because of previous records could possibly be released on bond with the condition of supervision. However, the decision for release would only come after a report as to their suitability for this program was submitted to me.

The Day Report Center provides drug treatment, requires urine drug screens, assists in finding employment or obtaining a GED, and requires defendants to report regularly. Should the defendants fail to comply with these conditions, they face having their bonds revoked. This option of bond with supervision would be beneficial to not only the defendants but would help in reducing the costs of incarceration.

Currently in West Virginia, it is not an additional crime to commit a crime while released on bond. I would recommend to the state legislature that a law be passed for this with a requirement that, upon conviction, a defendant serve a consecutive sentence. I would further recommend that it be an offense that cannot be plea-bargained away. With this statute being in place, this would be an additional deterrent for defendants to not commit additional crimes while on bond.

J. Larry Crawford, a resident of Milton, is a Republican candidate for Cabell County magistrate.

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