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Monday, December 09, 2019

Tag: violent crime

Don’t Blame Bail Reform For Spike In Violent Crime

The Fourth of July is an occasion for the reading of the Declaration of Independence. But a better project might be the reading of the Constitution, a document that many Americans revere without fully understanding.

Among this group are many police officers, even though they take an oath to uphold it and are greatly affected by it in the course of their duties. One provision that sometimes gets short shrift is the Eighth Amendment, which says, "Excessive bail shall not be required."

That provision rests on the longstanding right of criminal defendants to be granted bail except when no amount would ensure their appearance in court — notably in capital cases. But for others, the right to be released before trial is implicit in the amendment. Denying bail, after all, has exactly the same effect as imposing excessive bail.

Some states, recognizing this fundamental liberty, have enacted laws ending the use of cash bail. The reason is that requiring a money payment leaves huge numbers of defendants languishing in jail not because they have been proven guilty or are deemed dangerous but because they are poor. The vast majority of them will show up in court without it, and judges can require electronic monitoring to make sure they do.

But bail reform has coincided with a spike in violent crime across the country, and some cops have said this is no coincidence. New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea decried his state's changes as a "challenge to public safety." When Illinois enacted a law this year abolishing cash bail, the head of the Chicago police union said it had "just handed the keys to the criminals."

The evidence for the charge is skimpy. Violent crime surged last year even in places that didn't reform bail laws, which suggests something else — such as the pandemic or the economic shutdown or both — was the real cause. And overall crime in the United States fell in the first half of 2020, according to the FBI — which is not what you would expect if hordes of unrepentant criminals were streaming out of the jails.

The opponents of bail reform miss some major points. Bail isn't supposed to guarantee that no one accused of a crime will commit crimes while awaiting trial. It's inherent in bail that some defendants will do exactly that. The only way to prevent it is to lock them all up before the government has proven they did anything wrong.

"This traditional right to freedom before conviction permits the unhampered preparation of a defense, and serves to prevent the infliction of punishment prior to conviction," the Supreme Court said in 1951. "Unless this right to bail before trial is preserved, the presumption of innocence, secured only after centuries of struggle, would lose its meaning."

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx understands this even if her detractors don't. In a videoconference Wednesday sponsored by the Illinois Justice Project, she noted that some people think defendants should be locked up even before being convicted.

"They missed the step in the middle, where we haven't actually gotten to a trial yet," she said pointedly. But "the presumption of innocence maintains with the accused until there's a finding of guilt."

The logic of those who oppose eliminating cash bail is that dangerous suspects shouldn't go free. But the only sure way to determine which ones are dangerous is to put them on trial. Besides, requiring monetary bonds doesn't keep the more dangerous defendants behind bars. It keeps the poorer ones behind bars.

Cash bail is a form of punishment that may actually generate more crime rather than less. Defendants who can't raise the money may lose jobs, homes, and custody of their children. Dooming these people to poverty and dislocation is not a formula for putting them on the straight and narrow.

In Illinois, as in many other states, judges may deny bond to defendants whom they find would pose a risk to public safety if set free. Getting rid of money bail doesn't prevent judges from simply denying bail to this select group. The right to bail is not unlimited.

But selling freedom only to those who can afford it is not a formula for fairness or safety. Our system of criminal law and justice rests on the presumption of innocence. The critics of bail reform prefer a presumption of guilt.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

911 Tapes Released In Stabbing Of 12-Year-Old Wisconsin Girl

By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times

A bicyclist riding through a Waukesha park saw the Wisconsin middle school girl on the side of the road bleeding profusely and begging for aid, the victim in what has become known as the Slender Man stabbing case.

“Help me, I’ve been stabbed,” the girl said as the rider bent down and hit the phone to call police.

“I came upon a 12-year-old female, and she appears to be stabbed,” the bicyclist told the dispatcher, according to newly released 911 tapes. Two other 12-year-olds have been charged in the case, accused of luring the victim into the woods, stabbing her 19 times and leaving her for dead in the apparent hope of becoming proxies to Slender Man, a fictional online horror creature.

The tape goes on to quote the bicyclist: “Yes, she’s breathing,” the bicyclist told a dispatcher. “She says she can take shallow breaths. She’s alert.”

The good Samaritan reassured the bleeding girl.

“There’s a squad car coming now,” he is heard saying.

According to police, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier stabbed their middle school classmate Saturday morning. They told police they wanted to please Slender Man, a creature they learned about in online horror stories.

Geyser and Weier were charged as adults with attempted first-degree murder on Monday. They’re being held on $500,000 bail each.

The criminal complaint says the girls had been plotting to kill since December. They believed they needed to kill someone in order to win the creature’s favor, police said.

Weier believed so deeply that she thought she would never go home after the attack and placed a picture of her family in her backpack so she wouldn’t forget them, according to the complaint.

“The bad part of me wanted her to die. The good part of me wanted her to live,” police said she told them.

Geyser’s lawyer, Anthony Cotton, told reporters that his client may have mental health issues and shouldn’t be tried as an adult.

“To say it’s every parent’s worst nightmare is cliche, but it is,” Cotton said. “It’s the worst nightmare they could ever be dealing with.”

Photo: Heinrock via Flickr

Ex-Boyfriend Arrested In Fort Worth Killings

By Deanna Boyd, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH, Texas — An ex-boyfriend of a 21-year-old woman found slain along with her mother and aunt inside their south Fort Worth home Tuesday morning has been arrested in connection with the triple slaying.

Cedric D. McGinnis Jr., 22, confessed to the slayings and told detectives where evidence from the crime could be found, according to a news release from Fort Worth police Wednesday morning.

He had earlier in the day posted a message about his ex-girlfriend’s death on his Facebook page, sending love to her and her family and remarking that it was always the innocent ones “that get (expletive) over.”

The bodies of his ex-girlfriend, April Serrano, her mother, 48-year-old Cynthia Serrano, and her aunt, Kathy DeLeon, were discovered by Cynthia Serrano’s husband as he arrived home Tuesday morning after working a night shift.

April Serrano was found dead on the floor in the living room with a gunshot wound to the head.

Kathy DeLeon, 35, was found on the living room couch, also shot in the head. Cynthia Serrano, 48, was located in a bed in the master bedroom with stab wounds to the upper torso, according to police.

All were pronounced dead on the scene.

McGinnis had posted a message about his ex-girlfriend’s death on his Facebook page Tuesday late afternoon.

“R.I.P April Marie Serrano mane. Its always the innocent ones that get (expletive) over. Gone but never forgotten. RNS #lovetothefamily #lovetoher,” it read.

Homicide detectives later located McGinnis after learning that he had been April Serrano’s former boyfriend.

At a press conference Wednesday morning, homicide Sergeant Joe Loughman said McGinnis voluntarily came to the police station late Tuesday but would not speak to detectives about his involvement in the slayings.

“We took him back to a location. We were about to leave and we saw some things that…. we were interested in,” Loughman said. “”We asked Mr. McGinnis if he would come back and talk with us a second time. He agreed once again to come up here voluntarily.”

This time, Loughman said, McGinnis admitted his involvement in the slayings.

He was arrested on a capital murder warrant at his family’s home, police said.

He was being held in jail Wednesday with bail set at $1.25 million.

Photo: Andy Davy via Flickr

Trigger Happy In The Gunshine State

Doug Varrieur likes to shoot.

Problem is, it’s 25 miles to the nearest range, where they charge $45 an hour. What’s a gun enthusiast to do?

Lucky for him, Varrieur lives in Florida. Problem solved. Just erect a makeshift range in the back yard and fire away. It’s perfectly legal.

Re-read that if you want. It’s just as nutty the second time around.

In a story by my colleague Cammy Clark that appeared in Sunday’s Miami Herald, we learn that Varrieur, who lives on Big Pine Key, once complained to a gun-shop owner about what a pain it was going to the range to shoot. The owner put him onto Florida statute 790.15, which lists the conditions under which one may not legally discharge a firearm in the state. Turns out there aren’t many. You may not shoot “in any public place or on the right-of-way of any paved public road, highway or street,” over any road, highway or occupied premises, or “recklessly or negligently” at your own home.

Otherwise, let ‘er rip.

There are no mandatory safety requirements. Indeed, the language about recklessness and negligence was only added in 2011. Prior to that, apparently, it was even legal to blast at shadows and hallucinations, assuming you did so in your own back yard. Shooting actual people is presumably still illegal, though the family of the late Trayvon Martin might beg to differ.

Because he is a responsible gun owner, Varrieur, who has been shooting in his back yard once a week for a month, took precautions, even though, again, he is not required to. They include a wooden backstop seven feet high, eight feet wide and a foot thick.

Can you imagine living next door to this guy? Worse, can you imagine living next door to a Doug Varrieur who doesn’t take the precautions the law says he doesn’t have to bother with?

For what it’s worth, even Varrieur thinks the law is too “loose” and would like to see safety precautions mandated. County Commissioner George Neugent, also a gun owner, says the law is “a little scary.”

Ya think?

They call Florida the “gunshine state.” But this madness is not Florida-centric. In Colorado, you can have a gun in class. In Arizona, you can take one to the bar. In Georgia, they’re trying to make it legal to take one to church. So this isn’t just Florida. It’s America. We live in states of insanity.

As it happens, I have been corresponding with a reader who wrote me with what I regarded as promising ideas for moving the gun-rights argument forward. They included mandatory gun-safety training and mandatory liability insurance.

The dialogue faltered on his contention that he needs his gun because crime is spiraling out of control, and the country is not as safe as it was 20 years ago.

This, of course, is false: Crime is at historic lows. In 1993, according to the FBI, the violent-crime rate was 747.1 per 100,000 people. In 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available, it was 386.9. Almost 10,000 fewer people were murdered in 2012 than in 1993.

My reader was impressed with none of this. “Forget stats,” he said, “talk to victims.” If I did, I’d learn that road rage and knockout incidents are way up and that nightly, there are home invasions, robberies, stabbings and, ahem, shootings.

His insistence on perception over fact is emblematic of the nation we’ve become, so terrified by local TV news and its over-reportage of street crime that we think every shadow has eyes and we need guns in school, the bar, the movies, church.

Until some of us get over this media-driven paranoia, even promising ideas for ending the guns impasse are doomed. So I will close with some words of advice to anyone thinking of visiting or living in Florida or any other state of American insanity. One word, actually:

Duck.

Photo: Rob Bixby via Flickr

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com)