Utah eyes changing rules on granting bail before trial

Local News

Rick Bowmer, File AP

OGDEN, Utah (AP) — A proposal to limit the use of cash bail for people arrested in Utah is advancing in the Legislature, with supporters saying changes are needed to prevent people who are presumed innocent from getting stuck behind bars because they don’t have money for bail.

The plan to create a presumption of release for low-risk suspects has passed the House and is now being considered by the Senate, the Standard-Examiner reported Thursday.

The bill has support from prosecutors, sheriffs, defense attorneys and the courts. But there is opposition from the bail bond industry and some lawmakers who have said the existing system is too lenient.

Passing the bill could avoid the possibility of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Utah’s monetary bail system, which has happened in several other states, said the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Stephanie Pitcher.

“It creates a two-tier wealth-based system where those with money get out and those who don’t stay in,” she said.

Her proposal would create pretrial services programs that could impose requirements aimed at ensuring suspects show up in court and don’t commit new crimes if they are released after arrest. The requirements could include drug testing or suspects periodically checking in by phone or in person with court authorities.

Research shows keeping low-risk suspects jailed while they await trial increases the possibility that they’ll commit new crimes upon release, said District Court Judge Todd Shaughnessy. That’s because suspects held for lack of bail for as few as two days have a greater risk of losing jobs and housing compared to suspects immediately released on bail. They may also be deprived of mental health medication while in jail, he said.

People suspected of crimes considered serious or violent would face a higher level of scrutiny and be more likely to held in jail before trial.

The American Bail Coalition, representing the bail bond industry, contends that making it easier for suspects to post bail or not requiring it could increase crime. The group cited a University of Utah College of Law study indicating that monetary bail changes in Illinois resulted in higher crime.

If the bill passes, its effects would be tracked under an amendment from Republican Rep. Karianne Lisonbee.

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