This Week In Court

– week of 20th Feb –

This week in court, we saw how oppressive the bail system can be, towards both bailors and accused persons.

Research has shown that pre-trial incarceration, which is a frequent result of unaffordable cash bail, has a “criminogenic effect,” meaning that it increases, rather than decreases, crime, and has been associated with up to a 9% increase in recidivism in some countries.

Case 1:

A bailor forfeited his bail money of $15,000 when his brother, who was the accused, failed to appear in court for his hearing. The bailor told the court that his brother fled when he went to pick him up to attend court that day.

The man also said he received a letter asking him to appear in court on a Saturday at 2 pm but it was closed when he arrived the judge asked the man what he was working as and the man replied that he was unemployed. As the courts do not open on weekends, the judge remarked, “then you are not aware of usual working hours, might as well come at midnight and say it is closed”.

The man’s response was that he had confirmed the timing on the document with his relatives. He also explained that it was his first time attending court proceedings so he was not aware of the courts been closed on Saturdays. The judge said to him, “because it’s your first time to build your brother, you can’t read? You go blind is it?“

The man then explained, via translator, that he is not very good at reading or writing.

The judge ordered that the man’s $15,000 bill be forfeited and asked if he needed an instalment plan. The man asked for $50-$100 monthly instalments as he was unemployed. The judge responded to his request by asking him, “you want to start serving your default sentence today?“ To which the man replied, “how long is that?“

After a pause, the judge ordered that he had until 22nd March to come up with a “meaningful“ instalment plan, with a minimum of $1000 monthly payments. The judge also told the man if he managed to find his brother, he would have to bring him to the police station. He said, “the police department is 24 hours, so you can go at midnight if you like“.

Case 2:

A man appeared in court while in remand. He faced a maximum penalty of 20 years for an offence that was not revealed in court. As his father had a stroke late last year, the man wish to see him. However his bail amount was $150,000 and he told the judge that he was not able to raise such a high amount of money. The judge did not agree to his request to lower the bail amount.

Case 3:

A Malaysian man made a request to the court to make a call to his family in Malaysia for bail arrangements. However, the judge told him that overseas calls are not allowed as it required “special facilities“. The man told the court that he only had an aunt in Singapore but he could not remember her phone number and was unsure how he could arrange bail if he could not make an overseas call. The judge said he could try to call his embassy to help and said “I don’t have a list of numbers for you“, before concluding the hearing. 

Cash bail is a cruel and unjust system that punishes poor people presumed to be innocent. This practice destroys lives, where people can be kept imprisoned in remand for years while their trial is ongoing.

The research also shows that legal outcomes for people detained pretrial are considerably worse than people who are released pretrial. The accused person and their families also often end up taking short-term, high risk loans that drain families and communities of scarce resources, pushing them into debt and threats from loansharks. It also causes a lot of strain between accused persons and loved ones who take on a huge burden to bail them out.

Abolition of cash bail and pretrial incarceration has also been found to increase public safety.

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