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. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.