Crime

Go directly to jail

The latest victim of the economy appears to be bail

It’s a rote scenario in our law-enforcement system, one that’s so common it’s rarely played out in movies or television—posting bond, or a percentage of bail. And, barring some ungodly amount, it’s almost always posted.

Enter 2009, when many can’t afford to pay their mortgages. And in Las Vegas, where bond is 15 percent of bail (most states are 10 percent), more Las Vegans are having to make tough choices when faced with having a loved one spend the night in jail.

And lately, the decision has been: Sorry, gotta feed the kids and keep a roof over my head. As a result, jails are staying occupied a little longer than they used to. “Some have lost their jobs, and they have to choose,” says Kim Garcia, manager of All Star Bail Bonds. “With households where only one person is working, sometimes they just don’t have the money [for bail].”

Garcia started noticing the number of Las Vegans who post bond begin dropping around the beginning of the year, and says the number has continued to drop precipitously. “I’d say there are about 20-30 percent fewer people posting bail than last year,” she says.

What exacerbates the problem, Garcia says, is how many of those in trouble with the law are in that situation because of money problems. “You’ve got a lot of people in there just because they had 10 traffic tickets and missed a payment because they were out of a job,” she says. Plus, these people are hardly hardened criminals, and want to avoid staying in a jail cell at all costs. “The majority just want out, and their spouses want them out, otherwise there’s no one to watch the kids.” In some cases, Garcia’s company is able to work with a client to establish a credit line—with no interest.

Plus, Garcia says, in her experience, “it’s always better for a judge to see a person walking in on their own recognizance, as opposed to walking in orange with everybody else. You respect the individual more when they walk off the street.”

Assistant Public Defender Daren Richards says that posting bond can be beneficial in the long run “to show a judge, for example, that you have some stability in the community—quite frankly, that you’re employed.” However, Richards adds that each circumstance is different. For example, in the case of bench warrants issued because of unpaid parking tickets, “if you’ve got the bail money that you can pay towards the fine, tell the judge, and sometimes that’s all it takes.”

In more serious cases, Richards says, “Take that money you were going to pay for bail and hire an attorney.”

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Magazine's managing editor, having previously served as associate editor at Las Vegas Weekly, assistant features ...

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