Story by RYAN FINLAYSON
Implementation of the new risk assessment tool at county jails statewide will begin in May 2018. The Utah Supreme Court ruling allows judges to use a statewide risk assessment tool to determine if a person who has been recently arrested can be released from custody with the use of the Utah Human Service Code. As a society, we forget the people who will be impacted by certain laws and procedures. Collectively our society assumes the current system is working correctly. Unforeseen consequences can affect a person after their incarceration such as losing their occupation, car and housing. The current system favors the wealthy and deems someone’s guilt before the trial begins. The current protocol of determining if a person is eligible to be released from state custody in Utah is changing.
The practice of bail bonds provides those that can afford the bail amount a fair shake in trial. If that person is unable to acquire the funds, then they must stay in jail while fighting a criminal charge. Dylan Johnson has had his due process taken from him, because of his inability to pay his bail bond, according to his attorney. He lost his home, occupation and car because of being incarcerated until he was able to appear in front of a judge. After his incarceration he was placed on state supervision and his probation officer issued him a violation for not having an occupation. Once he received the violation, he received a jail sentence and lost his opportunity for employment. This failure in the judicial system has created a vicious cycle that has taken control of Johnson’s life for nearly a decade.
Johnson’s perspective on the bail bond system is negative, he states “The process doesn’t consider other factors that needs to be examined during the determination of an individual’s release from custody. The determination of an individual’s release from incarceration shouldn’t be based on a monetary criterion”. Johnson prides himself in the man he is today stating “I strive to make every day to be better than my last.” The current system allows an individual that has been charged with murder the ability to be released from custody that same day, but those with minor offenses who lack the bail amount will remain in custody.
Implementation of the new risk assessment tool will help judges weigh the decision of whether an individual accused of a crime should remain in jail. June 2017 Chief Justice Matthew Durant gave his opinion to represent the concurring decision of the Utah Supreme Court, despite objections from Utah lawmakers. Utah lawmakers objected to the judicial ruling by emphasizing the damage to the bail bond industry and the potential to release violent criminals.
Advocates for the new risk assessment tool have argued that the current bail bond policy only allows due process to those who can afford the bail amount. The new risk assessment tool provides Utah judges more information to decide on an individual’s eligibility for release. The risk assessment focuses on nine variables used to determine the conditions of release are met. These include an individual’s age at the current arrest, current violent offenses, pending charges at the time of the current offense, prior misdemeanor convictions, prior felony convictions, prior violent conviction, prior failure to appear at pretrial in the past two years, and prior failure to appear at pretrial dating older than two years. The listed variables provide Utah judges information to determine whether an individual’s release from state custody is a public concern, or the possibility the individual will not appear at their pre-trial hearing.
Durrant noted while ruling in favor of the Utah Human Service Code “The clear consensus of those without financial stake is that reliance on monetary conditions of release should be reduced, and that validated risk information should be provided to judges”
The risk assessment tool includes a series of possible conditions while being released such as drug testing and ankle monitor. Bail can currently be implemented to ensure the defendant’s appearance at their trial by paying a smaller bond to a bail bondsman or can be issued cash only bail depending on the presiding judge’s discretion. The bail bond industry’s practices have placed a value on freedom that some citizens simply can’t afford. A bail bond places a dollar amount to be paid before being release from jail based on the crime charged by the defendant.
In October 2017 state Senate President Wayne L. Niederhauser and House Speaker Gregory H. Hughes sent letters to Durrant expressing policy issues, emphasizing that other states which have implemented similar risk assessment tools have done so by passing laws, not through the courts. The Utah Supreme Court upheld previous rulings on the new statewide policy involving the release of defendants that were recently arrested from state custody using a new risk assessment tool. Utah’s legislative branch cries foul over the Supreme Court ruling.