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Deschutes DA explains change to state’s bail system that can lead to quick jail release

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Some aspects of a recent drug arrest near Bend spotlight a change in state law regarding the criteria for release from jail that prompted community questions and an explanation from Deschutes County's top prosecutor.

Last Thursday, Oregon State Police made a traffic stop on Highway 97 north of Bend around 5 p.m. due to a lane use violation and requested a search of her SUV after noticing signs of criminal activity.

OSP's drug-detection K-9, Marley, helped find about 15 pounds of hidden methamphetamine and powder fentanyl, leading to the 28-year-old Oakland, California woman’s arrest.

She was booked into the Deschutes County Jail around 11:30 p.m., but just an hour later, she was released on her own recognizance, a jail representative said.

Under the terms of Senate Bill 48, which became law last July, a suspect can be released before their trial date, based on their danger level to society -- not their ability to raise a bail amount. The bill eliminates the previous bail system.

Deschutes County District Attorney Steve Gunnels said Monday the bill was created with the intent to offer a level of fairness.

“It eliminated what they called cash bail, so that whether somebody is rich or poor, they are essentially on the same footing and they can be released without having to post bail," Gunnels told NewsChannel 21.

He acknowledged, "If a crime such as this had occurred prior to July 1st, the individual would have to post $500,000 for security to be released prior to seeing a judge."

If a person is deemed a danger to society, bail can be required - so what qualifies as dangerous?

“If somebody’s arrested for a serious assault, attempted murder, sexual abuse, crimes like that, they would be held until they saw a judge," Gunnels said.

Although Gunnels believes a serious drug offense qualifies as very dangerous, Senate Bill 48 prevents those holds.

"That is no longer the law, and so the jail no longer has a choice," Gunnels said.

There are exceptions, though, which include the severity of any prior convictions, or failure to appear in court on past charges. 

“Obviously, in a case like this, it does not improve community safety," Gunnels said. "Fentanyl is extraordinarily dangerous, and somebody who's bringing that kind of quantity of fentanyl into our community should be held."

Gunnels said in a case like this, the person is ordered to appear in, and the judge decides whether they'll then be held on bail, or released. 

Article Topic Follows: Crime And Courts
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Bola Gbadebo

Bola Gbadebo is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Bola here.

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