The News & Observer had an article in the September 6, 2010 edition about a 39 year-old Raleigh woman who was being held on a $5 million bail. Surely she must have been charged with committing a heinous and violent act against a human being… possibly a brutal assault or maybe an armed robbery with a little pistol whipping involved or maybe even murder. That is the kind of offense that I would imagine would warrant a bail in the stratosphere that easily exceeds the million dollar benchmark. But no… I would be wrong, as this young lady was charged with nonviolent crimes including identity theft and burglary. In all, she faces 29 felony and misdemeanor charges.
Now I don’t condone unlawful acts, regardless the nature, as laws are supposedly in place for the benefit and protection of all individuals. And this lady, Heather Holly, even went to the diabolical extreme of trying to shift blame of her criminal spree onto another person who shared the same name as she. That is cold-blooded. And identity theft crimes can result in serious and long-term problems for victims, who oft times are unaware of their victimization.
From the article, there is no indication that the crimes were committed with Ms. Holly being armed, and there is no indication that anyone was ever harmed by her during the commission of her crimes. There are a myriad of cases, however, in which serious injury – often life threatening – is inflicted on children and adults. Yet the bail for suspected perpetrators of violent crimes never even approaches that of Ms. Holly. Recently, for example, five or six Special Forces soldiers who beat up a single male at a topless bar, in which the victim sustained four skull fractures, were released without having to pay a bond… they just had to promise to show up for their next court appearance. Infants, not even a year old, have been beaten, sustained skull and rib fractures, and left comatose, with the offender’s bail not even coming anywhere close to a million dollars.
Another case that comes to mind is that of Johnny West, a middle-aged man who became enraged when a stranger yelled at him to slow down while he was driving in a neighborhood in which children were playing. Well, he went home, retrieved his gun, and with his 9 year-old daughter, returned to the scene to confront the man. West fired at the man who happened to be armed himself. He returned fire wounding West in the arm and unintentionally striking West’s daughter in the abdomen with a bullet. She required emergency surgery which entailed the removal of her spleen and part of her stomach. The man who West fired at was not charged, whereas charges against West included assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, and felony child abuse. Bail set for Mr. West was $28,000… and he readily made bond.
Heather Holly evidently used her ill-gotten gains to go on a $1,800 shopping spree at Best Buy, and although she allegedly stole a business check for $34,000, it appears from the article that she was unsuccessful in cashing it. She also used identity theft to try and obtain health insurance benefits, but again, it is unlikely that she received any. Despite her prolific criminal activity the financial impact of her illegal activities were meager to miniscule in comparison with other who have embezzled and defrauded individuals and businesses of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet, their bails, if they are held pre-trial, are meager to miniscule in comparison to that handed down to Heather Holly.
The problem with the court system in North Carolina, besides being one of “selective justice based on Class and Color,” is that bail is being used as a means to make an individual with a high bail serve a sentence without being convicted of a crime. The prime example is the James Arthur Johnson case, wherein he was held for 39 months without bail for a murder which the prosecutor, Bill Wolfe, knew that he did not commit. The prosecution knew that it could not win a fair conviction, so it moved the case along slowly while trying to get Johnson to plead guilty in exchange for time served. This is an horrendous case of injustice that the media has all but ignored. They won't even comment about how the Family and Friends of Brittany Willis stiffed Johnson out of the $20,000 reward he had earned.
However, using bail to make people serve a sentence without being convicted is not only morally and legally wrong, but it comes at a great expense to taxpayers. Even when charged with serious non-violent felonies, most defendants who are poor, disenfranchised, and of color, do not have the wherewithal to flee and start a new life elsewhere. So a reasonable bail, or pre-trial monitoring should be utilized in the majority of these cases. The other problem with housing non-violent defendants while awaiting trial, is the tremendous burden on taxpayer dollars. Pre-trial monitoring is a much better option than jail, in that it is much less costly, and does not totally disrupt the individual’s life. Lengthy incarceration invariably results in job loss, it the person was employed prior to arrest. Incarceration has a cascading affect on many facets of a person’s personal life in addition to work, and they include financial stress on family, stress on relationships, and loss of personal property. This only leads to the defendant and his family's need to rely more heavily on social programs in order to survive.
Unfortunately, the main purpose of bail (to assure the defendant shows up for trial) has been ignored, overlooked, and usurped by those who are intent on feeding and sustaining the correctional facility corporations. The big businesses whose bottom line depends on housing prisoners rely on bodies, whether or not they are non-violent or innocent, being held in jail. Those who are sacrificed to these beasts are society’s disenfranchised, poor, and people of color. As long this is the case in our capitalistic society, you can expect to see bail amounts escalate for those charged who are most vulnerable and least able to bond out. The well-heeled individuals with the ability to successfully flee the country and establish a safe haven abroad will continue to have little or no bail set for them, regardless of the charges they face or the seriousness of them.