Get Out of Jail Free Card

In the last post I discussed the purpose for surety bail. For the sake of reiteration, the post can be found prior to this on our Facebook page, surety bail is utilized to hold the surety financially accountable to the state to ensure the defendant appears at all court dates required by the court of competent jurisdiction. In this post I will discuss the most utilized form of pretrial release in South Carolina. This form of release is known as a personal recognizance. This term will often be referred to as a PR bond (personal recognizance) or OR bond (own recognizance). As a society that was raised playing the game of monopoly this form of release can easily be equated to the “get out of jail free card”. To move further, a discussion on the meaning of personal recognizance, the purpose for personal recognizance bonds, and the shortcomings of personal recognizance bonds will be discussed.

A personal recognizance bond is an unsecured form of pretrial release mandated by a magistrate judge that allows a defendant to be released from custody on their own promise to appear at future court dates as required by the court of competent jurisdiction. This release is considered unsecure because a surety is not financially bound to the state should the defendant fail to uphold the conditions of bail. Rather should the defendant abscond there are no third party guarantors associated with the case, and the state must maintain all financial responsibility in locating, apprehending, and transporting the absconded defendant. This form of release provides the defendant with absolutely no accountability throughout the judicial process. Due to the nature of a PR bond, having zero financial responsibility, it can be equated to a “get out of jail free card”.

Certainly there is a large purpose for PR bonds in the criminal justice community. These bonds were created as a form of release for low risk, first time, non-violent offenders to be released pretrial. A majority of crimes committed in urban areas result from traffic violations and low level victimless crimes. These individuals were meant to be granted PR bonds in order to alleviate jail population. When used correctly PR bonds can be a vital tool in combatting the issues of jail overcrowding. It is when this form of release is abused that issues occur from a public safety standpoint.

Public safety is one of the largest concerns when considering bail. It would be assumed by the public that all criminal actions with a victim involved would be required to meet bail with secured sufficient surety. However, this is not the case. I can personally attest that personal recognizance bonds are granted to individuals charged with high-level felony crimes on a daily basis. A large number of these crimes include domestic violence, burglary, manufacturing of drugs, weapon possessions, felony dui, etc… This is not only a safety concern for the victim, but also the public as a whole. The public safety issue arises through a lack of accountability. The defendant is released with no supervision or financial responsibility when granted a personal recognizance bond. When required to post secured surety bail a defendant is monitored, must check-in, must appear in court, must be of good behavior, have no contact with the victim, notify with change of address, and not to leave the state of South Carolina. If the defendant violates one of the conditions the surety may apprehend the defendant to prevent any imminent violations of the conditions for bail. On a personal recognizance bond there is zero accountability.

As a last point personal recognizance bonds take a significant portion of financial gain from the state of South Carolina. A surety is financially bound to the successful completion of a defendants’ case until disposition. If the defendant fails to uphold their responsibility the surety is bound to produce the defendant or financially reimburse the state of South Carolina for the loss incurred. Leaving a large pool of funds available to the state to collect upon. These funds can then be utilized to further progress the state of South Carolina. This pool of funds does not include the money saved through a private company monitoring, skip-tracing, providing court reminders, and apprehending absconded defendants. All these actions require taxpayer money when a secured surety is not involved.

In closing it is important for the public to be involved in the criminal justice process, and understand completely the actions taken. An unsecured personal recognizance bond will often be presented to the public as a secured surety bond. When viewing bond information be sure to look for the difference, and understand if the defendant has been released on an unsecured personal recognizance bond or a secured surety bond. When doing this you will be surprised to see how many violent offenders are released on unsecured bail.  As citizens it is important to view the statistics of these forms of release as to appearance rates, recidivism rates, victim safety, and financial responsibility. Victims right to know bills are a form of protection for the public to demonstrate how their tax dollars are truly being utilized for public safety. All funds are produced by the public through taxation for criminal justice actions. Therefore, the public should maintain the right to know how their tax dollars are being allocated. Private surety is the only means where the public is obsolete from the payment of criminal activity.

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