The Justice Files: No bail, no jail

Justice Files

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – Dennis Skiby is accused of raping an eleven-year old girl.

He was charged in Wasatch County last month but following his initial appearance Skiby was released from jail on his own recognizance. He didn’t have to post any bond.

The same thing happened for Donald Kingston. He was charged with two counts of aggravated sex abuse of a child and two counts of sodomy. He too was released from jail after posting one-thousand dollar bail. Court records do not indicate if it was cash or if Kingston had to pay five percent.

Bail would normally be in the tens of thousands of dollars. But under a new law that went into effect October 1, bail is no longer set by the kind of crime committed but on one’s ability to pay.  Bail is now being set at much lower levels. In most instances, it capped at $5,000.  

The legislature passed the law during the 2020 session because it was widely believed that wealthy defendants were the only ones who could pay larger bail amounts while the poor sat in jail awaiting trial.

“My job description is to defend people who have no money,” said Bill Aldana, the Utah County public defender during a public hearing at the legislature.  

Aldana like other public defenders, prosecutors, and law enforcement all supported the change in bail requirements. They believed the scales of justice were tipped against lower-income defendants.

“I have a lot of people who end up pleading guilty to a criminal offense because that’s part of the plea bargain,” Aldana told the legislative committee. “If you plead guilty to this, we will let you out of jail. That happens all the time. It’s wrong. It shouldn’t happen. This bill would help to fix it.

But three weeks after the law went into effect, some are viewing the change as a threat to public safety. Jeff Clayton, the executive director for American Bail Coalition said bad guys will be taking advantage of the change in the law.

“That’s what’s going to happen,” he said. “If you go hit a cop you won’t have to post bail. It’s going to destabilize the system. Utah’s attempt at justice reinvestment increased the amount of recidivism in the state of Utah. This is just going to fuel the fire. 

Earlier this month, a Duchesne County man charged with domestic violence left jail on his own recognizance.

“I am going to allow your release on your own recognizance and I am going to lift the no-contact order between you and your wife,” Judge Sam Chiara told Ruben Campuzano at his initial hearing.

For his victim, she has gone missing for fear he will be looking for her.

A spokeswoman for an advocacy group said they inform victims that the defendant will at some point be released from jail. Liz Sollis said that’s why they advise victims to have a safety plan in place.

“The safety plan helps that individual to stay as safe as possible,” said Sollis with the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.  “It can also be used to keep them safe when they’re not with the perpetrator.”

Clayton said bail bondsmen have an advantage if they are the one’s posting bail on behalf of the defendant.

“If we posted the bond we could go arrest the guy if we don’t post the bond nobody is going to look for the guy,” he said.

The coalition also thinks the new law is unconstitutional and may challenge it in court.

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