Questions raised about releasing felons on bond

DETROIT (AP) -- Questions are being raised about why some convicted felons in Michigan are allowed to remain free on bond ahead of sentencing after several cases where they didn't show up for their punishment.

Sherrod Bradford last week removed a tether the night before his scheduled sentencing, the Detroit Free Press recently reported. The 18-year-old from Detroit faced 10-20 years in prison in a child molestation case. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

A similar incident occurred in May when a Detroit man cut off his tether four days after a jury convicted him of attempted murder. According to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, whose office handles Detroit cases, releasing such felons is "a slap in the face to the jury."

"As an assistant prosecutor, I saw it happen frequently," she said. "My feeling always was, and still is, if you are facing a violent crime ... you don't deserve to be out."

Under Michigan law, state judges may release criminal defendants on bond if they're not considered a danger to others. Historically, the courts have released convicted criminals so they can get their affairs in order and spend time with family.

"We make the decisions based on the information that's made available to us, and we make our best judgment. And sometimes that judgment ends up being an error," said Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenny, who heads the criminal division. "I can't imagine that a judge would feel good about a decision that they let someone out and then they don't come back.

"No judge wants that to happen."

The problem is seen in Michigan and elsewhere.

"It has been a long-standing problem since the '70s, and it's getting worse because more and more judges are releasing defendants with little accountability" said Jeff Kirkpatrick, vice president of Universal Fire and Casualty Insurance, which insures bail bond agents. "Some of it is just a matter of bringing it to their attention, that maybe this isn't such a great idea."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 52 percent of defendants charged with violent crimes in state courts -- including murder, robbery, rape and assault -- are released on bond. Of those, 11 percent fail to appear for mandatory hearings; roughly 8 percent become fugitives.

Between 1990 and 2004, of the 54,485 criminal defendants who failed to appear for court hearings, 28 percent remained fugitives for more than a year. The Bureau of Justice Statistics doesn't track specifically how many defendants flee after conviction.

Published: Thu, Aug 18, 2011