39 year-old Raleigh woman Heather Holley was recently booked in jail and saddled with 29 misdemeanor and felony charges with offenses including burglary, breaking into three homes, identity theft, and stealing mail, checks, passports, and other identifying information. She is also alleged to have went on a $1,800 shopping spree using a stolen credit card, and attempting to cash a $34,000 business check. One victim stated that Ms. Holley caused her added distress with postings on Craigslist that resulted in unwanted phone calls and knocks on her door. According to media reports she also tried to use the identity of two children to obtain health insurance benefits. These crimes had been carried out over a series of months, ending with her recent arrest.
Ms. Holley's initial bail was set at a whopping $5 million. At her first court appearance several days following her arrest, Ms. Holley told the judge that her bond was outside the legal guidelines for the charges with which she faced. So, the judge promptly raised her bail another $1 million to a total of $6 million. As referenced in a prior recent blog about Ms. Holley, a man charged with first degree murder had bail set at $1 million, one-fifth of Holley's original bail. However, to really illustrate the illogical disparity in the amount of bail being set in North Carolina, compare Holley's case to that of another North Carolina resident, Kristen Snipes.
Kristen Snipes, a 26 year-old Morrisville, NC woman, was recently charged with drunken-driving and having unsealed alcohol in the passenger area of her car. As a result, she had her driver's license revoked and was released to await trial for the DUI related offenses. However, the day following the revocation of her license, she was driving and struck a man on a bicycle from behind. Witnesses of the accident saw her flee the scene in her vehicle. The man was hospitalized for treatment of his injuries. The following day Ms. Snipes was apprehended outside the state of North Carolina... in South Carolina. She was returned to North Carolina where her charges now include DUI, driving with an open container of acohol, felony hit-and-run, and driving with a revoked license. Add to this, that she was arrested outside of the state of North Carolina. Her bail was set at only $26,000.
This is just one of many examples of North Carolina's system of selective justice based on Class and Color. There is no doubt that someone charged with murder should be given a higher bail than a non-violent thief. Also, someone who causes bodily injury while driving a vehicle on a revoked license should have a bail that is set much higher than a petty thief.
I refer to Holley as a small time thief because the financial amounts of her alleged crimes (from what was reported in the media) was less than a couple of thousand dollars. Compare this with the embezzlement of $5,000 by a 21 year-old employee from a Taco Bell franchise... his bail was $20,000. Another comparison is that of a former Durham County sheriff's lieutenant charged with 25 counts of embezzling nearly $100,000 from 2003 until 2009, embezzling drug evidence, felony obstruction, and felony possession of cocaine... his bail was set at a paltry $50,000 (one one-hundredth of that of Holley's initial bail). What makes crimes of the lieutenant more egregious than Ms. Holley's is that the sheriff's officer was in a position of public trust when he committed violations of the law.
Then consider the case of Durham's Somerhill Gallery president Joe Rowand. He fleeced consignment artists out of compensation they were due by pocketing the proceeds from the sale of their artwork and misleading artists into believing that their works had not yet sold. Artists are owed $270,000 on commissions from works sold as far back as 2002. Furthermore, while running the business into the ground, Rowand paid himself a monthly salary of $15,000 and his company owes more than $200,000 to its landlord, Scientific Properties. To protect himself, he has filed for Chapter 11 personal bankruptcy protection, making it extremely unlikely that the artists who were defrauded out of their commissions will ever be compensated. What, you may ask, is the bail for this man who is a combination of a small-time version of Bernie Madoff and CEO of AIG? Well, there is no bail (none, nada, zilch) because what he has done in ripping off hardworking artists for years is not considered a crime. In our capitalistic society it is called "doing business." In other words, a businessman can legally cheat people out of thousands of dollars and not even be charged with a crime. Are Joe Rowand's actions more despicable and criminal than Heather Holley's? Undoubtedly, yes. Just keep in mind that North Carolina is a state which follows the tenet of "selective justice based on Class and Color."
I do not believe that reasonable people possessing common sense would argue that the bail amount set for Heather Holley is absurd. It may even be possible, as Ms. Holley stated, that it is beyond the bounds of guidelines set for the charges against her. I am unfamiliar with specific law here, but my gut feeling is that she is correct on this point... in which case, the judge probably raised her bail from $5 million to $6 million out of pure spite.
The important issue to face is what direction to take now. Instead of continuing on this downward spiral, I would suggest that the justice system step back and consider taking the following avenue... one of Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice is a concept that is taught and widely promoted at Raleigh's Campbell University School of Law under Jon Powell. It consists of the following steps: 1) for the offender to admit responsibility for his/her actions; 2) for the offender to apologize to the victim; 3) for the offender to compensate the victim for his/her losses; and 4) for steps to be taken to prevent the re-occurence of the offense by the offender. In Ms. Holley's case, the scenario would play out as follows, under the supervision of a mediator: 1) Ms. Holley would meet with each of her victims (if they are agreeable, of course). She would admit her role in the offenses against the victims and offer her apologies. 2) She would re-pay the victims for financial losses, including interests for payments made over time. 3) To assure that Holley does not repeat her offenses, she would be placed under probation, she would undergo psychological evaluation (to rule out a mental cause for her sudden past criminal acts), and other non-malicious programs would possibly be instituted to monitor her. I have no objection to reasonable community service as a condition.
By following these principles of Restorative Justice the following benefits can be realized: 1) affording the victim of the most positive closure to a criminal event; 2) possibly salvaging the life of the offender; 3) freeing up space in correctional facilities for those requiring incarceration; and 4) saving hard-earned taxpayer dollars.
Proceeding down the current road, in which, if convicted on all charges could land Ms. Holley in prison for more than six decades, is detrimental for all involved and for society in general. For many traumatized victims, it is cathartic and healing to receive a sincere apology from the heart of the perpetrator of the crime. Even communicating and getting to know one another's circumstances and background can foster empathy. This has been supported by certain cases in which family members of murder victims communicated with the murderer and surprisingly even forgiven them for taking the life of their loved ones in certain instances. Heather Holley, who claims to have not been in trouble with the law prior to the current string of crimes, would spend a significant number of productive years locked behind bars, which would not offer much in the promise of rehabilitation. It would be yet another life, unnecessarily wasted in a warehousing mentality of the North Carolina justice system. Furthermore, in a country which leads the world in the percentage of its population incarcerated, it would free up prison space for those convicted of truly heinous and violent crimes. There would be less over-crowding in the correctional facilities, which would lead to less stress, fewer confrontations and fights among the prison population, and better control of inmates and compliance to rules. Finally, the cost to the taxpayer of seriously prosecuting and keeping Ms. Holley in prison amounts to more than the cost of sending her to get a college education. Housing people in prison is an extremely expensive proposition that politicians don't want to discuss or acknowledge for fear of the appearance of being "soft on crime." But the truth is that the state's budget crisis would not be as dire if those who did not deserve to be incarcerated were released and either monitored and/or placed on probation. Placing Ms. Holley in jail for years is taking money out of North Carolinians' wallets and decreasing funds available for social programs needed for the poor, ill, and disabled.
Now I'm not suggesting that Ms. Holley should go scott-free for the crimes which she committed, but I do not believe that she should be held under unreasonably high bail, and that she should be sentenced to an exceptionally lengthy sentence if convicted. Mitigating factors should be considered in her case, and not the desire for carrying out a vendetta against Holley because of the victims' standings. If warranted by evidence, prosecution should offer a fair and just plea deal before proceeding with a costly prosecution. Taking a fair, logical and humanitarian approach regarding the treatment of Ms. Holley would be in the best interests of society, and all involved. The only ones to suffer by taking this uplifting path would be the CEOs and fat-cats of corporations invested in building, operating, and maintaining the state's correctional facilities.