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Ohio bill seeks to set limits on cash bail for defendants

Published: Jun. 8, 2021 at 5:43 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 5:51 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTAP) _ Cash bonds for criminal defendants couldn’t exceed 25% of individuals’ monthly income and hearings for conditions of jail release would have to take place within 48 hours of an arrest, under a bill in the Ohio Senate meant to address growing calls to reduce the use of cash bond.

Personal recognizance bonds, which don’t require cash bail, should also be the baseline for release as long as defendants are guaranteed to appear for future hearings and public safety isn’t endangered, under the bill introduced in May by GOP Sens. Rob McColley of Napoleon and Steve Huffman of Tipp City.

Rep. David Leland, a Columbus Democrat, says a proposed companion bill was introduced in the Ohio House, also with bipartisan support.

Both progressive and conservative groups have been calling for years for the reduction or elimination of cash bond, saying it sets already struggling people further behind by putting them at risk of losing jobs while behind bars and disconnecting them from family support.

Washington County Prosecutor Nicole Coil says local judges usually take a person’s income into account when setting the conditions for release from jail while people are awaiting trial.

“(Municipal Judge Janet Welch) is the first person who sees the defendants,” Coil said Tuesday, “and she goes through a very thoughtful analysis with every defendant in terms of their ability to post the bond, in relation to the seriousness of the crime, their record with the court in terms of attendance, and several other factors which she takes into consideration.”

In March, the Ohio Supreme Court adopted a new rule requiring that non-cash bonds must be the first choice for judges when setting bail conditions for releasing defendants from jail.

Coil is concerned about the requirements regarding income, noting a person’s income isn’t always known at the time bail is under consideration.

“For instance, drug traffickers don’t have an income; they don’t have a career they’ll be able to report on their taxes. So they have more income than would be reported, which can be used to make that determination as to what those bonds would be.”

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor is a longtime proponent of reducing reliance on cash bail.

The bill is pending in both House and Senate committees.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)

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