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Oregon to end bail-based pretrial release system Friday, focus instead on arrestee’s danger to community

People deemed dangerous can no longer post bail, be freed before first court hearing; those deemed not dangerous no longer must wait in jail solely for lack of funds to pay bail

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- A new state law that takes effect Friday makes major changes in Oregon's process for determining whether and how arrested individuals can be released from jail before their first court hearing or trial, with a new system that focuses on their danger to the community -- not whether they can afford bail.

Senate Bill 48, passed by lawmakers and signed by the governor last year, significantly changes the way that people who are charged with a crime are released from jail, Deschutes County Trial Court Administrator Angie Curtis said in a news release Tuesday.

As of July 1, "the historic security or 'bail' schedule will be replaced with new criteria that determine who can be released on their own recognizance, released with conditions or held in jail until an initial appearance before a judge," Curtis wrote.

"The new release categories are based on the seriousness of the charges and the person’s individual history, such as prior convictions or failure to appear in court on past charges," she said.

Based on the SB48 legislation, the Chief Justice of the Oregon Judicial Department issued Chief Justice Order 22-010, with guidelines for circuit courts to develop local presiding judge orders (PJOs) that refine release criteria, based on the needs of the community.

"The community should not be concerned about community safety" as a result of these changes, Deschutes County Presiding Circuit Judge Wells Ashby told NewsChannel 21 on Tuesday as the court released his order.

"People who qualify for release and can be safely released will be released into the community," Ashby said, "and those who require that security be set and need to visit with the judge will be held until that takes place.”

Although there has been some criticism of the changes, District Attorney John Hummel said, "This bill improves community safety." 

"Right now, if you are arrested, dangerous, and have money, you can post bail at the jail and be released before seeing a judge," he told us recently. "Come July 1, if you are arrested and dangerous, you will not be able to post bail at the jail, and instead will have to appear in front of a judge to request release. At a release hearing, the State and the victim will be able to argue against release. 

"Another positive result of this bill," Hummel continued, "will be that if you are arrested and not a danger to the public, you will be released without having to pay bail money, and will be ordered to appear at a future court date to resolve your case. This is good, because right now, many people who are not a danger to the public sit in jail awaiting their first court appearance in front of a judge because they cannot afford to pay bail."

Hummel pointed out three key aspects to the changes:

"1. People charged with certain dangerous crimes will not be released prior to a court hearing;

"2. Certain crimes will result in a release prior to a court hearing, but conditions will be placed on the person that they have to comply with when on release (depending on the charged crime, no alcohol, no contact with the victim, etc.).  This is different than the status quo.  Today, if a person is released from jail prior to a court hearing, the jail places no conditions on them. 

"3. There is an override section that will result in no release, even if the person is charged with a crime that is listed in the release section.  Override reasons include a pending criminal charge, threat of violence, on probation, prior failure to appear in court, and other listed conditions you’ll see if the draft order. "

Hummel said Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters "created guidelines that compiled with the bill, and she granted counties latitude to craft our own system, as long as it did not conflict with her guidance or with the bill."

Ashby also noted that the county order, drafted with input from the local legal community, can be modified if any issues arise after implementation.

Klamath County Sheriff Chris Kaber recently issued a news release sharply critical of the SB 48-driven changes in the release process made by the chief justice. "One of the negative effects of this decision," it stated, "is that many people battling mental illness, who are taken into custody for lower-level offenses, will be released and miss an important opportunity for connecting with mental health services to aid them in their illness and maybe prevent future criminal activity."

Kaber said, “When someone is suspected of victimizing others, it is appropriate for them to be brought before the judge for their initial plea. That is best accomplished by holding them in jail until they appear before the court or requiring some form of assurance (bail) that they will appear before the judge at a later date.

"With the implementation of this law, in many cases being arrested will merely become an inconvenience for them, once they realize they will be released as soon as the initial booking process is complete," the sheriff continued. "Many adults in custody will also not receive the mental health care they desperately need to help them avoid future conflicts with society."

"This decision by progressive government officials, who do not understand the complexity of the criminal justice system, does not help our rural community. It is becoming easier each day to be a criminal in our state,” he said.

Kaber concluded the news release by saying: "Remember to lock your doors, lock your cars, keep an eye on your neighborhood, and report suspicious activity."

 Hummel said after reading Kaber's news release that it's important to note "the sheriff of Klamath (County) is arguing for the status quo. The status quo is that rich, dangerous people can get out of jail right now without having to appear in front of a judge."


Article Topic Follows: Crime And Courts

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Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.


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