In a recent tweet, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best expressed apparent frustration with the city’s jail release system.

“A business owner reported a property crime, and @SeattlePD arrested the suspect. Within hours, the suspect was released from jail and returned to commit a new crime. The same officer re-arrested the suspect. This not only hurts our community, but officer morale as well,” she wrote. Best is currently out of town. In her stead, Assistant Chief Deanna Nolette said that the police department was “one part of the system” and “we can’t control what happens downstream.” It appears that the Personal Recognizance Screening system may be the “downstream” element. According to some, the system fails to account for recidivism and lacks judicial oversight. In fact, in about one in ten cases, a screener approves immediate release without any judicial order.

The catch-and-release issue may be widespread.

Area peace officers have arrested one defendant on seventy-two separate occasions. “Hopefully, the county can get this issue sorted out,” commented Seattle criminal defense attorney Lennard A. Nahajski. “The PR release mechanism is an important component of the jail release system in King County. For many decades, the cash bail system was the only way to get out of jail before trial, Nahajski explained. But as the number of unsentenced inmates rose, more people criticized this system. Indeed, if people are in jail just because they cannot afford bail, that’s a serious problem. Programs like the PR release system provide an alternative. Generally, if the defendant committed a nonviolent misdemeanor, PR release may be an option. The defendant simply promises to appear in court at a later date. The arrest essentially becomes a traffic citation.

In violent or felony offenses, cash bail is probably an option.

Typically, the sheriff sets presumptive bail amounts based on the severity of the offense and the defendant’s criminal record. That amount might be $700 for a misdemeanor and $1,500 for a felony.  But to many people, seven hundred dollars might as well be seven million. So, a bail bond might be a better alternative. For about a 15 percent premium, a bonding company files a surety bond with the county. The bond has a lower cost, but may come with additional conditions. An attorney has limited chances to advocate for the defendant in these preliminary matters. At a subsequent bail reduction hearing, an attorney can reduce the bail amount based on factors like:

  • Defendant’s connection to the community,
  • Amount of evidence against the defendant,
  • Defendant’s ability to pay, and
  • Any threat to the community.

The Eighth Amendment guarantees reasonable bail in criminal matters. If the defendant remains behind bars, it is much more difficult to mount an effective defense. 

To discuss your case contact The Nahajski Firm.