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Lawmakers seek to deny bail to those accused of violent offenses

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A proposed constitutional amendment that would give prosecutors and judges more discretion in denying bail to those accused of violent crimes will be debated during the upcoming 2020 legislative session.

Rep. Chip Brown, R-Mobile, will again sponsor legislation to “fight back” against violent criminals who are let out on bail while they await trial.

“Too many of those who are accused of violent crimes are bonding out of jail and committing even more serious offenses, and it is time for law-abiding Alabamians to start fighting back,” Brown said.  “Denying bail to those accused of violent offenses is a common sense answer to a dangerous societal problem, and I am certain the citizens of Alabama will ratify a constitutional amendment if the Legislature will simply pass it.”

Brown points to the recent case of Ibraheed Yazeed, who is currently being held on capital murder charges in the November death of 19-year-old Alabama student Aniah Blanchard.

The Montgomery Advertiser reported that at the time of Blanchard’s kidnapping, Yazeed was free on a $295,000 bond from charges of kidnapping, attempted murder, robbery and possession of marijuana in connection with the beating of two men in Montgomery.

And in September, Tuscaloosa police officer Dornell Cousette was killed by a suspect who out on bail with pending robbery and assault charges.

Alabama’s constitution currently states that any person can be considered for bail unless they are being accused of a capital offense.

Brown’s legislation would allow bail to be denied to those who place the public at risk with their release. Specifically, it would amend Alabama’s constitution to say, “If no conditions of release can reasonably protect the community from risk of physical harm to the accused, the public, or both, ensure the presence of the accused at trial, or ensure the integrity of the judicial process, the accused may be detained without bail. Excessive bail shall not in any case be imposed or required.”

Brown sponsored this same legislation earlier this year and it passed the House with bipartisan support, but ran out of time to get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee before the session ended.

“It came up on our last committee day,” Sen. Cam Ward, the chairman of that committee, told ADN. “It was on our agenda but we just never got to it.”

Ward, R-Alabaster, said that he likes Brown’s bill, but is considering sponsoring similar legislation that would deny bond for anyone accused of six specific violent offenses: murder, first-degree rape, first-degree sodomy, kidnapping, sexual abuse or sexual torture and human trafficking.

“It would have to be specific,” Ward said. He said the prohibition on bail shouldn’t apply to all offenses that are considered violent. Some are Class C felonies only punishable by one to 10 years in prison,

“So it wouldn’t be all, just the true violent offenses,” Ward said.

Other lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee say they would have a problem if the bill was left with too broad a scope.

“I really think that you have to look at each case on a case-by-case basis,” Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, told ADN. “…So many things have been used as a discrimination-type tactic to deny people certain rights and we don’t want to take a broad brush on this kind of point.”

Coleman-Madison said that looking at how the bill defines “violent” is going to have to be further discussed and defined.

North Carolina and Maryland are the only states that don’t have explicit presumption of pretrial bail in their state constitutions or statutes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Each state has their own statute on what qualifies in denying bail. Fourteen states including Alabama only have capital offenses as their reason for refusing bail.

If Brown’s constitutional amendment is passed out of the House and Senate it would then be voted by Alabamians during a public election.

The legislative session starts Feb. 4.

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