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Paying up: The rules of bail in Oregon

Paying up: The rules of bail in Oregon


So you’re in jail. For a felony charge. Your guilt or innocence doesn’t matter at this point. You just want to get out.

In Oregon, you may be able to post 10 percent of the total bail amount, also known as security. Bail and security are money or other collateral used to back a promise that the accused will show up in court when he’s supposed to.

If the judge decides not to allow conditional release or being released on one’s recognizance, he will decide the bail amount based the severity of the crime, the criminal history of the accused and any history of violence.

Bail can vary from the $10,000 on a charge of unlawful meth possession, for example, to $75,000 for someone accused of sex abuse.

But unlike 46 other states, if someone skips legal jurisdiction to avoid court, a bounty hunter is not involved. Oregon is one of only four states — Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin are the others — where  “commercial” bail bonding is not allowed.

Previous to the 1970s, bounty hunters and bail agents worked under common law rights.

In the early 1970s, several Oregon counties began allowing a 10 percent deposit instead of the full bail bond.

Soemone held on $10,000 bond, for example, could pay the clerk of the court $1,000 and be let out.

Then, if he doesn’t show, he is liable for the full bond, and a warrant is put out for his arrest.

In effect, the court is serving as the bond agent.

The method caught on and began to drive the private bail bonding industry out of Oregon.

“It sort of died out,” said Dennis Bartlett of the American Bail Coalition, a trade group for the bail bond industry. “You had an environment in which bonding could not recover.”

In 1978, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled in the case of State v. Epps that the capture by bail agents of a California man in Oregon who had been avoiding justice was kidnapping, in effect banning bounty hunting in the state.

Linn County District Attorney Jason Carlile said keeping bounty hunters out of the judicial process is a good thing.

“I have some very serious reservations about bail bondsmen,” he said. “They just bring an element to the criminal justice system that I think is just not appropriate. Bail bondsmen have a bad reputation of being motivated purely by money versus some sense of justice.”

Carlile said that in a way, Oregon serves as its own bondsman. In this state, the defendants, their friends or family often can post a 10 percent deposit on the entire bail amount to secure the accused’s release.

For the most severe crimes, a judge can order the accused to be held without bail, which means no opportunity for pretrial release.

But suppose the accused pays a 10 percent security fee on that $10,000 meth charge bail, and is released pending trial. The person shows up for all the court dates and is even found not guilty at trial.

Although most of the $1,000 is returned, about 15 percent of the money ($150) is taken out for court administrative costs and — if you’ve had a court-appointed lawyer — indigent defense contribution.

Money to cover any fines you’ve been assessed is also withheld.

Guilty or innocent, it’s the nonrefundable cost of your day— or days — in court.

However, according to Carlile, for most defendants bail isn’t used at all.

“The vast majority of defendants are released on conditional release,” he said, where money is not posted. “It’s a promise they will show up, stay away from the victims and not get into any trouble.”

Benton County’s District Attorney John Haroldson, had this to add:

“Regulation and oversight of bail bondsmen can easily outweigh their benefits.  States utilizing bail bondsmen provide us with good examples of how citizens can be exploited through these profit-driven enterprises.”

As one would expect, private bail bonding companies beg to differ.

Where it’s allowed, private bail bonding works like this: A jailed individual enters into an agreement with the company to show up for court. The individual (or his friends and family) come up with eight to 10 percent of the bond and pay the agency that amount. The agency, puts up the rest of the bail money.

If the person skips town, the agency is liable for the full amount.

While those in the bail bonding business do their best to make sure that doesn’t happen, their methods aren’t at all what you see on TV.

Nikki McMains owns and runs  McMains Bail Bonds in Oroville, Calif., a city in the northern part of the state.

She said she has been working in the trade since age 22, when she joined her father in the family business.

McMains, now 70, has seen both state-run and private bail bonding in her state.

“California tried doing their own 10 percent, but it didn’t work out,” she said.  “It cost the California taxpayers a great deal of money.

“It’s better for private industry because private industry does everything better than government does,” she said.

McMains asserts the cost to the government by serving as bond agent is two-fold, paying the law enforcement officer to apprehend the fugitive, as well as the loss to the jurisdiction if the fugitive doesn’t pay bond.

She says with bail bonding, she is the one who pays two-fold. She used the following example:

“I have six forfeitures (bond jumpers.) I have two guys looking for those six people. If they don’t find them, I have to pay their bail. So the county makes income.

“If I do find them and get them back to court, I still have to pay court costs. In Butte County (Calif.) it’s $220 for the additional paperwork for the court.

“So I pay the court both ways. I pay for the paperwork and I pay if the man doesn’t show up.”

McMains said states like Oregon that don’t allow commercial bail bonding are missing out on a lot of cash.

“Bail is better handled by agencies because we have a financial risk,” she said. “The state (serving as bond agent) doesn’t have any risk; it just pays the police.”


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