Bond reform in Broward County: Low-level offenders won’t be held in jail

Most people booked on non-violent charges will be released and told when to show up for court under new order

Most people booked on non-violent, third-degree felony and misdemeanor charges in Broward County will be released from jail and told when to show up for court.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Bond reform is a hot-button issue all across the country. It’s supposed to make things fairer, but critics say it is really just one big experiment. It’s also a major shift in our criminal justice system.

Now, in Broward County under a new administrative order, fewer people arrested in Broward County will have to wait to see a judge.

The order was issued by Broward County Chief Judge Jack Tuter.

“Holding people in custody on low-level offenses is just not the way to run a criminal justice system,” said Tuter.

Most people booked on non-violent, third-degree felony and misdemeanor charges in Broward County will be released from jail and told when to show up for court without seeing a judge or paying a bond.

Tuter believed that it wasn’t fair that just because someone had money, they were able to get out of jail.

“I saw a great disparity between, especially minority communities, who did not have the money to post convenience bond and often had to sit in jail on low-level, non-public safety type crimes.”

Bail bondsmen are angry as the order clearly affects their business and, they said, removes accountability.

One bail bondsmen said: “It’s playing tag. He’s making police officers play tag with criminals.”

Criminal defense attorney Eric Schwartzreich said deputies can still decide if someone is facing these types of charges, such as grand theft and possession, should see a judge before leaving the jail.

“It’s up to the jail now. It’s up to the jailers. It’s up to the deputies here in Broward County that run the jail to take a look and see if someone is on probation and if someone has a warrant. That is supposed to preclude you or stop you from being released. That can be missed.”

Broward’s public defender said it was time for a change.

In a statement, Broward County’s Public Defender Gordon Weekes said:

“It’s important to take a fresh look at bond reform. This new administrative order moves us toward a system that unravels the disparities in the criminal justice system for individuals that lack the affluence to post a bond for a nonviolent offense. The previous system was greatly weighted in favor of the moneyed and its impact was inadvertently punitive towards the poor who could not afford even a minimal bond.

“While the rich could immediately bond out without facing a Judge, the working poor would be further set back as they lost their job, get evicted from their homes and have their cars reposed as they sat in jail at a cost of $110 to $130 a day. Merely because they could not afford to post a bond.”

The new order in Broward County was a collaborative effort. The state attorney’s office, Broward Sheriff’s Office, the public defender’s office all had to sign off on the order. After a year, they said they will reassess and tweak it as they go.

By the way, Miami-Dade County has a very different bond schedule.

(Read the complete order below)

About the Author:

Andrew Perez is a South Florida native who joined the Local 10 News team in May 2014.