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Judges persuade Commission on Courts to reject bail bond proposal and review use of psychologists

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Proposed legislation regarding bail bonds died Oct. 21 in the Indiana General Assembly’s Commission on Courts hearing after Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Dickson raised concerns about constitutionality and legislative overreach.

“Once a suspect is arrested and placed in custody, it is the exclusive responsibility of the judiciary to evaluate and make all decisions regarding the basis for pre-trial release, if any,” Dickson, who is a member of the commission, told his colleagues. “While it may be the Legislature’s prerogative to regulate the business of insurance, including bail surety bonds, this legislative power cannot impinge upon the judiciary’s authority to implement the constitutional right to bail, including the setting of all terms and conditions of release from pre-trial detention.”

The commission heard extensive testimony in July from bail bond agents and Hendricks Superior Judge Robert Freese about the differences between and consequences of surety bonds and cash bonds. Bail bond agents alleged that courts are increasingly requiring cash bonds as a way to finance their judicial operations.

After Dickson made his remarks at Monday’s meeting, commission chair Sen. Brent Steele said he did not see anything in the proposed bill that would limit judicial discretion as the chief justice described. Judges could still set the bail at the amount they wanted, but the defendants would have the option of choosing the type of bail that best suits their resources, the Bedford Republican said.

Dickson responded that in his reading of the draft, the legislation would prohibit judges from releasing defendants based on their own recognizance. He pointed to Freese’s comments that discharging low-level offenders without bail has proven to be very effective in getting them to appear at their court dates.

Also, Dickson raised concerns that the legislation would prohibit any future movement by judges to use risk assessment tools when they make their pre-trial detention decisions. He said for individuals not charged with non-violent felonies, these tools have been shown to result in a high number of defendants returning to court, greater public safety and taxpayer savings.

Steele again said he did not see how the bill would restrict judges. He then asked for a motion on the proposed legislation. None of the commission members responded, causing the draft to die.

Allen Circuit Judge Tom Felts kept alive a proposal that would remove the current statutory requirement that judges appoint at least one psychiatrist to the team assessing the competence and mental health of a criminal defendant.

At the Sept. 24 meeting, members of the Indiana Psychological Association testified the law should be rewritten because the shortage of psychiatrists willing to assess criminal defendants is causing significant problems for the courts. However, certified forensic psychiatrist George Parker countered the medical training psychiatrists receive is invaluable in evaluating defendants’ physical aliments and use of medications.

Steele did not offer any proposed legislation regarding the use of psychologists and psychiatrists at Monday’s session, saying his interpretation of the commission’s response to the testimony was that the system is not broken and does not need to be fixed.

However, Felts echoed many judges when he noted courts can have an extremely difficult time finding psychiatrists. He said he would like to see a proposal go forward and Steele agreed to have a bill drafted.

The commission unanimously approved a proposal adding another magistrate to Vanderburgh County.

Also, the commission unanimously endorsed a bill that would tweak the language in the pendency of appeal statute. Henry Circuit Judge Mary Willis, representing the Indiana Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, told the commission the push for the change was ignited by the Indiana Supreme Court decision in In Re the Matter of Adoption of Minor Children: C.B.M. and C.R.M.: C.A.B. v. J.D.M. and K.L.M., 37S03-1303-AD-159.  

Willis described this case as the “perfect storm.” The adoption petition proceeded before the order for termination of parental rights had been finalized which, under the current wording of the state statute, is legal. However, when the Supreme Court vacated the adoption decree, the adoption was reversed and the minor children were removed from the only home they ever knew.

To prevent this from happening again, the Juvenile Justice Improvement Committee and the Indiana Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges recommended changing Indiana Code 31-19-11-6. The proposed wording makes clear that courts may not hear and grant a petition for adoption if the termination of parental rights is being appealed.

“That way, when kids get their final adoption decision, it is final,” Willis said after the hearing. “The horrible call is not made that there is a problem with that adoption. And the biological parents know they have every right to pursue their appeal until a final decision is made.”     
 

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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