Jacques Smith, the suspect in the double-murder at Texas A&M Commerce who was recently arrested and released on $15,000 bond for aggravated assault of one of his two alleged victims in the A&M Commerce double-murder and who was already on probation for robbery, has gotten a lot of press lately. Understandably, the bulk of the media coverage is outrage that this person with a violent history could’ve gotten out on a relatively low bond after seriously assaulting his (ex)girlfriend only to go on to murder her and her sister a short time later.

I was interviewed yesterday for last night’s NBC 5 10pm news program about how our current bond system works and how it could’ve allowed this tragedy to occur. As I point out in that piece, saying “that $15,000 bond was too low” (as the Dallas Morning News did in it’s recent editorial) is too simplistic and misses a the most important point. If all we focus on is setting a bond “high enough,” we don’t do nearly enough to address the problem. Dangerous people who also have access to money will still get out and go on being dangerous. Poor people who aren’t dangerous will go on being locked up for no good reason. Deciding who sits in jail and who gets out on bond based on how much money they have is ludicrous.

For years the US bail system has been based primarily on money (the more serious the crime, the higher the bond was set). Not only did that system produce the perverse results mentioned above (rich dangerous guy gets out while poor not-dangerous guy stays locked up), but that system has been deemed unconstitutional, so there’s no going back. We’ve been trying to come up with a new system that both considers people’s ability to pay and the risk they pose if out on bond. The answer is not to go back to the old broken system, it’s to continue to work on creating a better system.

Right now when a person is arrested in Dallas County, their bond is set in a cattle call arraignment where they spend hardly any time in front of a judge who has hardly any information in front of them to make an educated decision. The staff that’s in charge of researching their background, flight risk, future dangerousness, and ability to pay, is small and drastically underfunded. And worst of all, the lawyers for the District Attorney’s Office and the defendant are not there to do the heavy lifting of putting the necessary information and arguments before the judge so he or she can make the right decision. What we need is a full, adversarial hearing right away when bond is first set. Furthermore, we need a better-staffed and better-funded pretrial services department that provides comprehensive supervision of people who are deemed to pose a risk of danger or flight. Until we have that our system will not be as fair or as safe as it should be.

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