SPECIAL REPORT: STATE SENATOR PROMOTES BILL TO DENY CLASS A FELONS BAIL
Right now in Alabama, people accused with some of the most serious crimes in the state are given bond. One state senator is working to keep violent offenders who are charged with these crimes locked up longer. But, some say the move will lead to more overcrowding in already packed county jails.
Alabama Sen. Cam Ward (R) said it’s time to crack down on people accused of committing heinous crimes. He’s introduced a senate bill this legislative session that would take away the right of bail for defendants accused of some of the most serious crimes.
“My bill would just say, if you have one of those Class A Felonies, then you’d have to be held without bond for at least 15 days, and then a public hearing is held, and you can decide whether they should remain in jail or not,” Ward said.
Ward explained that his bill was partially motivated by the death of 19-year-old Auburn University student Aniah Blanchard, who went missing last October. Her remains were found a month later, and the man accused in her death was out of jail on a $280,000 bond for attempted murder, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree robbery in a separate case.
Ward also cited the murder case of 3-year-old Kamille “Cupcake” McKinney. The body of the kidnapped Birmingham toddler was found in a landfill last October. One of the suspects charged in the case was also out on bond during her murder.
“Both those young girls would be alive today, if you would have had this bill in place,” Ward said. “Now, does it impact a lot of cases? Probably not, but if it saves one life, it’s worth it.”
Alabama’s constitution currently states that any person can be considered for bail unless they are being accused of capital murder. Ward wants to change that; his bill would deny bail for any Class A Felony. That includes rape, sodomy, sexual abuse, sexual torture, murder, human trafficking and kidnapping. Ward’s bill would stop any suspect of any of these crimes to get out on bail.
Not everyone is on board with the legislation, though. Sonny Brasfield, the executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said the way the system is set up right now is just fine.
“County jails are temporary facilities,” Brasfield said. “They are not constricted to house inmates on a long-term process. In theory: you’re arrested, you’re booked into the county jail, you’re arraigned and then you bond out. That’s how things worked 20 years ago, 25 years ago. Today it doesn’t happen that way. A large number of people who are arrested are not able to make bond for one reason or another, so they sit.”
Jenny Carroll is a professor of law at The University of Alabama. She agrees with Brasfield that the legislation would make overcrowding in county jails worse.
“If you look at a bill like Ward’s, that’s going to increase the number of individuals who would either be eligible for no bail, then you can expect that you are going to see an exasperation of that overcrowding problem that we’re already seeing at this county level,” Carroll said.
Carroll also said there are questions and fears about making laws around one or two extreme cases. Ward countered this by saying he wrote the bail legislation after the Aniah Blanchard and Cupcake cases, but Carroll affirmed that “bad cases don’t make good law.”
“For every time a judge gets in wrong like in the case of Aniah Blanchard, there are scores of cases in which defendants were released, either on no bail or very few conditions, and they complied with those conditions,” Carroll said. “They reappeared in court, they didn’t create any new safety concerns within the community itself.”
A bill similar to Sen. Ward’s legislation has been approved by the Alabama House. Rep. Chip Brown’s “Aniah’s Law” would allow judges to deny bond to people accused of committing violent crimes. Representatives unanimously approved the proposed constitutional amendment and accompanying enabling legislation. If it passes the legislature, the measure would go to voters for approval, possibly in November.