Americans have recently begun waking up to the disastrous consequences of bail reform efforts that are being led by progressive district attorneys across the nation.
The case of Darrel E. Brooks in Wisconsin is just the latest, if not most tragic, example. He ran over his girlfriend with a car in early November, but despite the seriousness of the charge and his long wrap sheet, Brooks was let out on a mere $1,000 bail. Two weeks later he drove through the Christmas parade in Waukesha, seriously injuring dozens of people and killing six, including four grandmothers and an 8-year-old boy.
While the enormity of the Waukesha tragedy is unusual, the process that contributed to it isn’t. Courts often let suspects charged with violent crimes out with little to no bail while their cases work through the slow gears of the criminal justice system, sometimes releasing known predators like Brooks to prey upon our communities for months, maybe even years before they face justice.
But are things like this happening in Alabama?
A quick search of the internet just turned up the following:
- Mobile: Christin Brionna Edwards was charged with four counts of attempted murder last month while being out on bail on a 2019 murder charge. The district attorney said the process is a “revolving door.”
- Montgomery: Jeremie Rashad Wright was charged with murder last month while he was already out on bail after being charged with another murder committed in 2018.
- Tuscaloosa: Deramus Devalle Harris was charged with murder last month while out on $75,000 bail from another murder charge in 2020.
- Birmingham: Anthony Needham shot his girlfriend in the head in 2018 and was charged with murder. He was let out of jail two days later on $100,000 bail, and several months later he shot and killed a man during a robbery.
- Huntsville: Charles Price Preston was charged with murder last year after having already been arrested 17 times for various other crimes, including assault, rape, and robbery.
So, yes, it is happening here in Alabama. And often.
Some may recall the kidnapping and murder of 19-year-old Aniah Blanchard of Homewood in October 2019.
Her alleged killer, 29-year old Ibraheem Yazeed of Montgomery, was well-known to police. He was out on bail after being charged earlier in the year with robbery, kidnapping, and attempted murder. Yazeed and three others allegedly robbed and beat two men in a Montgomery hotel, including a 77-year-old man who was left near death. Yazeed was also accused in 2012 with attempting to kill two police officers with his car, and he was arrested in 2017 for aggravated battery on another police officer.
Prosecutors say Yazeed — still walking free after all of that — kidnapped Blanchard from an Auburn gas station, shot her in the head, and dumped her body in a wooded area of Macon County.
Prosecutors and victim advocates say that current Alabama law prevented the courts from holding Yazeed without bail for his earlier charges because none of them were capital crimes or met others standards, and that Aniah’s killing was a wake-up call.
The governor signed a bill named “Aniah’s Law” earlier this year that would change that, adding murder, kidnapping, rape, assault and other violent crimes to the list of charges that could lead to a defendant being denied bail. Voters will decide if Aniah’s Law becomes part of the state’s constitution in November 2022.
Aside from Aniah’s Law, prosecutors are seeking to increase the maximum amount of bail for murder, which is currently set by the State Supreme Court along the following lines:
- Capital felony: $50,000-no bail allowed
- Murder: $15,000-$150,000
- Drug manufacturing and trafficking: $5,000-$1.5 million.
So, as you can see, someone charged with dealing drugs can be held for 15-times the amount of bail than someone charged with killing another human being.
A rules committee of the Alabama State Supreme Court recently approved a motion from Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey to increase bail for murder to $1.5 million, after having already increased the maximum from $75,000 to $150,000 in 2014.
We mustn’t simply give the state a blank check, however. It’s a safe bet that the government will abuse whatever additional power the people grant, without vigilant oversight. As Benjamin Franklin warned, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
We deserve both.
Aniah and all of the other victims deserved both.
And with the enactment of Aniah’s Law, the increase of bail for murder, and the strength and will to ensure the state doesn’t abuse its authority, we just might be able to have it.
J. Pepper Bryars is a conservative opinion writer from Mobile who lives in Hunstville. Readers can find him at https://jpepper.substack.com