VANDERBURGH CO., IN (WFIE) - Where does society draw the line between relieving overcrowded jails and ensuring public safety?
A new rule just adopted by the Indiana Supreme Court aims to ease the pressure on county jails, but prosecutors have serious concerns.
The new measure calls for the court system to release a person arrested for a crime without money bail or surety, if that person does not present a substantial flight risk or danger to themselves or others. That person wouldn't be eligible for pre-trial release if:
(1) The arrestee is charged with murder or treason.
(2) The arrestee is on pre-trial release not related to the incident that is the basis for the present arrest.
(3) The arrestee is on probation, parole or other community supervision.
"If the way it's done now, is the way it's going to be done in the future, then what's the point of the rule?"
That was Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann's main question in a press conference scheduled for Thursday morning.
Prosecutor Hermann, joined by Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill, says he called the press conference to start a community conversation regarding Indiana Criminal Rule 26.
"This decision is intended to impact one small part of our criminal justice system," explained Hermann. "But it's going to drastically impact it across the board, if in fact it makes substantial changes."
This an excerpt from the Indiana Rules of Court - Rules of Criminal Procedure website for Criminal Rule 26:
(B) In determining whether an arrestee presents a substantial risk of flight or danger to self or other persons or to the public, the court should utilize the results of an evidence-based risk assessment approved by the Indiana Office of Court Services, and such other information as the court finds relevant. The court is not required to administer an assessment prior to releasing an arrestee if administering the assessment will delay the arrestee's release
(C) If the court determines that an arrestee is to be held subject to money bail, the court is authorized to determine the amount of such bail and whether such bail may be satisfied by surety bond and/or cash deposit. The court may set and accept a partial cash payment of the bail upon such conditions as the court may establish including the arrestee's agreement that all court costs, fees, and expenses associated with the proceeding shall be paid from said partial payment. If the court authorizes the acceptance of a cash partial payment to satisfy bail, the court shall first secure the arrestee's agreement that, in the event of failure to appear as scheduled, the arrestee shall forfeit the deposit and must also pay such additional amounts as to satisfy the full amount of bail plus associated court costs, fees, and expenses.
(D) Statements by Arrestee
(1) Prohibited Uses: Evidence of an arrestee's statements and evidence derived from those statements made for use in preparing an authorized evidence-based risk assessment tool is not admissible against the arrestee, in any civil or criminal proceeding.
(2) Exceptions: The court may admit such statements:
(a) in a pretrial proceeding involving the arrestee; or
(b) in any proceeding in which another statement made in preparing an authorized evidence-based risk assessment tool has been introduced, if in fairness the statements ought to be considered together.
(3) No statements made for these purposes may be used in any other court except in a pretrial proceeding.
This rule in its entirety is effective immediately in the pretrial pilot courts and courts using an approved evidence based risk assessment under Section B.
Sections C. and D. are effective immediately in all courts.
Sections A. and B. will be effective in all courts January 1, 2018.
The rule focuses on many factors but the main point is to alleviate jail overcrowding.
Vanderburgh County Sheriff Chief Deputy John Strange says the Vanderburgh County jail has 654 inmates currently, about 140 people over capacity.
"But the fact of the matter is that the real problem we face is we have too many people in our jail. It was full the day we opened the new facility," explains Chief Deputy Strange.
Prosecutor Hermann and Prosecutor Hill have questions regarding the new measure:
A.) Who will administer these pre-trial release assessments?
B.) Where's the extra funding coming from to pay for these new assessments?
C.) How can you prevent a defendant from lying during these assessments in order to get out of jail?
D.) How can victims trust the criminal justice system when there's yet another measure to give the accused a chance to get out of jail?
"In a situation when you have yet another rule which focuses on releasing people who may be a threat to the community, that's going to be a problem for victims," explains Prosecutor Curtis Hill. "Why should a victim trust that the system is working correctly?"
"I don't have a problem with letting people out of jail. However, I do have a problem with making the community less safe," explained Prosecutor Nick Hermann.
Indiana Criminal Rule 26 for pre-trial release is being used as a pilot program in nine counties in northern Indiana.
But the measure becomes a statewide mandate in January of 2018.