Solicitor targets repeat offenders

Revoking bail urged as way to keep criminals jailed until trial

By Schuyler Kropf, The Post and Courier
Thursday, December 13, 2007

Scarlett Wilson, Solicitor of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, speaks at a press conference Wednesday about her plans to "stop the revolving door" of allowing re-offending criminals to be released on bond over and over.

 

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson is pushing to revoke bail for repeat violent offenders, calling it a simple solution to keeping a large portion of Charleston-area criminals behind bars until trial.

Whether it will be a success depends in part on the magistrates and judges who see repeat offenders. Additionally, some defense lawyers will almost assuredly oppose it as they try to get their clients released.

Wilson held a press conference Wednesday where she was flanked by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Mount Pleasant Mayor Harry Hallman, Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon and other local ranking law enforcement officials in support.

A portion of Wilson's plan hinges on the notion that defendants who get released on bail sign a form that says they must be on general "good behavior" while free awaiting trial. In reality, some of the harder criminals know that they are likely to get bail repeatedly, even when they re-offend, she said. A small segment of the community is committing the most serious violent crimes over and over, she said.

Under the plan, the solicitor's office will make "every effort" to have a court revoke a bail under the following situations: when a defendant free on bail for a violent offense is rearrested, and when a defendant is out on bail for a firearms offense and gets arrested for another firearm offense. Potentially dozens of defendants each year could be kept behind bars if the plan is a success, she said.

To illustrate the problem, Wilson pointed to the case of a criminal who was arrested nine times since 2005 on charges including armed robbery, drug possession and weapons charges; he received a low bail each time. The same suspect was recently arrested for murder, she said.

While not being critical of Wilson's effort, Charleston County Public Defender Ashley Pennington said judges already have the authority to withhold or set a high bail, and also the freedom to evaluate the accused on a case-by-case assessment of their risk to the community.

Pennington credited Wilson for trying to shine a spotlight "on the issue of folks getting released and getting rearrested."

Some defense lawyers might also fight the directive under the argument that a rearrest without a conviction does not mean there is proof of a bail violation.

The state Supreme Court this week cleared the way for the county's preliminary hearing court to also be used for bail revocations, Wilson said. A key advantage is that revocations can be done more quickly instead of waiting for a term of criminal court, she added.

She also has set it up so that bond judges have live, electronic access to a defendant's criminal record and pending charges so they can evaluate a bail refusal during a court appearance.

Contact Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551 or skropf@postand courier.com.

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