COA: Trial court failed to meet pretrial risk assessment requirements

A trial court abused its discretion when it denied an Elkhart County man’s motion to reduce bail because it failed to order and consider the results of a pretrial risk assessment report, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

In Phillip Beachey v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-2121, the COA vacated the Elkhart Superior Court’s order denying modification to Phillip Beachey’s bond and remanded for proceedings, citing mandates under Indiana Criminal Rule 26.

In October 2020, Beachey was charged with three counts of Level 1 felony child molesting, three counts Level 4 felony child molesting, three counts of Level 4 felony sexual misconduct with a minor and one count Level 4 felony attempted sexual misconduct with a minor.

The trial court issued a warrant for Beachey’s arrest and, using the local Elkhart County bond schedule, automatically set a surety bond of $520,000 without utilizing an evidence-based risk assessment. Beachey requested a bond reduction at his initial hearing and the trial court ordered a bond report, which was filed on Oct. 26, 2020.

Beachey’s request for bond modification was denied a week later by the trial court, which noted he had two brothers living in California and that the level and number of felonies warranted the original bond amount.

On appeal, Beachey argued the trial court abused its discretion by not complying with Indiana Code section 35-33-8-3.8 and Indiana Criminal Rule 26.

The state argued the trial court was not required to administer a pretrial risk assessment due to lack of availability. However, the COA found the state failed to acknowledge the reason why the pretrial risk assessment wasn’t available to the trial court was because it “failed to order an assessment in the first place.”

The state also asserted the trial court was permitted to consider “other relevant factors” to determine the bail amount as provided in Indiana Code section 35-33-8-3.8.  However, both the statute and the rule include the word “and” rather than “or” with respect to the evidence-based risk assessment.

“The State may not choose one over the other and completely ignore an integral and significant directive,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the appellate court. “The bond report ordered by the trial court included only a basic inventory of Beachey’s background information. It did not provide an analysis or an assessment of Beachey’s risk of flight or any indication whether he posed a danger to the community.”

In its second argument, the state emphasized the very last sentence of CR 26, which provides that “the court is not required to administer an assessment prior to releasing an arrestee if administering the assessment will delay the arrestee’s release.”

The COA again denied the assertion, saying the argument “misconstrued the final provision of the rule.”

“In no logical sense does Criminal Rule 26 explicitly or implicitly provide a loophole allowing a trial court, or the State, to ignore the requirements imposed by the Indiana Supreme Court,” it concluded.

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