Tuesday, November 10, 2009

High Bonds Lead to More Guilty Pleas

In Illinois, if arrested for a felony the defendant must be brought before a bond judge within 48 hours. People arrested for misdemeanors are typically released from the police station after booking with a court date in a few weeks.

At bond court some are released on house arrest and a very few are released on I bond, which means they have to post no money "to walk." The majority, however, have a cash bond set.

The purpose of a cash bond is to ensure the defendant will come to future court dates. In reality, and in my opinion, the high bonds in Cook county serve to incarcerate prior to conviction. In my opinion this is unconstitutional. That statement is not universally true. Some people are simply dangerous and don't belong on the streets. But they have not been convicted yet. What about innocent until proven guilty? This is an interesting argument.

The amount of money a defendant must post "to walk" is determined at a one-two minute bond hearing. The judge hears about the case in the light most favorable to the State along with the defendant's criminal background, including any and all missed court dates. The public defender tells the judge the defendant's social background, such as age, level of education, family situation, and employment status.

I am not sure of the calculus the judges use to set bond, but usually bonds for females are lower. And obviously, less serious crimes are lower...unless there is a lot of background. I have seen gun case bonds from as low as $2,500 all the way up to $50,000. Simple drug possession cases are usually around $5,000 if there is a prior felony. Most murder defendants are held with no bond.

Not too many people can post high bonds. I see a lot of people whose family scraped together $1,000 but anything higher than that is rare. What this means is the defendant will sit in the county jail while the case is pending.

By the time the case gets through either a preliminary hearing or the grand jury, most defendants have been in jail for up to 6 weeks. Almost everyone will "cop out" and plead guilty at the arraignment if probation is offered. They would rather plead guilty to something they didn't do than sit in jail and fight the case.

In Illinois a one year prison sentence in reality is only 61 days. I have been told recently a one year sentence has been reduced to a couple of weeks and a two year sentence is only 90 days. I don't get it. But many defendants see a quick prison term as the shortest road home and don't care about a felony conviction.

There is the rub: sit in the county jail for months fighting a case on motions to quash and suppress or just plead guilty, do a month or so and come home on parole (mandatory supervised released is what it's called these days).

The only clients I have that will litigate their case and allow me to give them a defense are those who were able to post bond or those facing at least 20 years in prison if convicted. Those on bond don't mind coming to court once a month while I work up their case. And those facing serious time want me to take my time preparing their defense.

If more people were able to afford bond, I predict there would be many less guilty pleas because defendants would let their attorneys work the case up. And that takes time.

As a rule I consider a guilty plea the last option, but for many clients it's the first option. I hate having a case I feel is defensible and a client that wants to plead guilty. It stinks. But I work for my client and not my ego or my love of criminal litigation.




  1. Very interesting and informative. Thank you for the lesson!

  2. "In Illinois a one year prison sentence in reality is only 61 days. I have been told recently a one year sentence has been reduced to a couple of weeks and a two year sentence is only 90 days. I don't get it. "
    IDOC puts a "floor" of 61 one days on 12months. Other than that, they calculate sentences like this: take the ordered sentence, in months, subtract the time spent in county awaiting trial, split it in two [day for day credit], then subtract 6 months good time credit. viola.
    therefore, 18 months, split in two, minus 6, becomes 3 months [90 days].
    Hope that helps
    Bob, Assistant Kankakee County Public Defender

  3. I think the general law-abiding public has no idea of the truth you recognize. It is a sad situation when a person's lawyer is practically begging the client not to enter a plea. The judges and the prosecutors know what is happening and they want it that way. Much simpler for everyone if the accused just "pleads out."


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