‘If they can pay it, they can get out’; Judge explains role when it comes to bonds, electronic monitors

Judge opens up on criminal justice criticisms

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief is looking into if CMPD will continue tracking accused criminals who bond out of jail, but have to wear GPS monitors.

According to CMPD, 29 people charged with murder are out on electronic monitoring right now. Putney’s been critical of judges who have set bonds low enough to allow defendants accused of violent crimes to bond out.

Yesterday, Putney said the criminal justice system is flawed, pointing a finger at the Mecklenburg County Court House. But a judge with Mecklenburg County is now responding to his comments and says she’s just as disappointed about this year’s violence.

Judge Elizabeth Trosch says she’s seen more cases involving a teenager and a gun this year than in all of her past 10 years on the bench. But she says just because it feels like there’s more crime, judges cannot punish someone until they get a conviction. She says judges have to set conditions of release, including bonds, because North Carolina operates on a release framework justice system.

“When a person is accused, they are accused and under our system they’re presumed innocent,” said Judge Trosch. "Our state system says everyone, except in very limited circumstances, is entitled to release pre-trial.”

She says that’s part of the reason why judges set bonds, even with the more violent cases.

“The most severe condition of release we can impose is a money bond,” she said. “And if they can pay it, they can get out.”

But Chief Putney has still been critical of the way the courts handle repeat violent offenders, including the money bonds they set for violent offenders.

“The bigger issue is if you don’t break the cycle of violence it’s going to continue," said Chief Putney. "The other people are the other criminal justice partners they have to step up, hold these repeat violent offenders accountable.”

Judge Trosch understands his frustration with the bond system in North Carolina, because she feels them too. We asked her specifically about a case where two men are charged with first degree murder. One of the defendants has a $750,000 bond, the other had a $50,000 bond and was able to be released.

“I think your example demonstrates that using monetary amounts as conditions of release based on charges is irrational,” Trosch said.

She says the better system is a release or preventative detention model. She says it’s used in federal and some state courts and allows judges to keep people in jail if it’s likely they would commit other crimes.

“I think those are the model that are demonstrating the best outcomes and those models would equip judges in NC with more effective tools to responding to the risk they may see with particular defendants," Trosch said.

Another challenge she says judges and magistrates face when setting bonds is they don’t have much information about the case. She says judges typically just know the charges but might not hear from police or affected victims during the first hearings when conditions are typically set.

She says because of this, the courts are working with the District Attorney’s office and CMPD to make first appearance hearings more meaningful and so judges have a fuller picture of the accused crime.

Right now, when people accused of violent crimes do make bonds, a judge orders an electronic monitor to be warn as a condition of their release. Judge Trosch says the court system is grateful for that service.

“When we are placing electronic monitoring as a condition of release, that’s a judge saying ‘Well if you’re able to post bond, which I can’t stop you from doing, I’d at least like to know we can keep tabs on you and maybe this monitor will be a deterrent to future criminal activity,'" She said. "It’s really something extra in a situation where we do have a concern.”

Chief Putney is deciding if CMPD will continue to offer that service. He said they’re determining if they have the staffing, funding and resources to continue monitoring suspects electronically. It’s unclear what the court system would do if Chief Putney decided to pull out of the program.

The one thing the entire criminal justice system can agree on is that the violence has got to to stop. They all say the solution has to be a community one.

“Police officers, prosecutors and the courts are way down stream. There’s only so much we can do when our role is to respond to something that’s already happened,” Trosch said. “At some point as a community, rather than focusing on whats happening at the end of the river, I think we need start looking at whats dumping all the toxins at the top of the hill.”

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