Senator to introduce bill that would deny bail for violent felonies

Senator to introduce bill that would deny bail for violent felonies
Aniah Blanchard was reported missing on Oct. 24. Her body was found a month later in Macon County. (Source: WBRC)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - State Senator Cam Ward is drafting legislation to reform the state's bail schedule.

During a news conference Tuesday, Ward called a recent high-profile capital murder case in Lee County a wake-up call.

“In certain situations, people shouldn’t be on the streets,” Ward said.

The case involves the kidnapping and murder of Lee County college student Aniah Blanchard. The man accused, Ibraheem Yazeed, was out on bond in Montgomery for kidnapping and attempted murder at the time of Blanchard's death. Yazeed’s bail was set at the maximum amount listed in the state’s bond schedule, a guideline for judges outlined in the Rules of Criminal Procedure.

“Had this person not been on the streets, that girl would still be alive today,” Ward stated.

Bail is used to ensure defendants appear for court and it’s available for all offenses in Alabama except for capital charges. Ward’s bill would expand that exception to include murder, first-degree rape, first-degree sodomy, kidnapping, sex abuse, sexual torture, and human trafficking.

Judges currently have the discretion to raise bail amounts in cases where evidence shows the defendant is a flight risk or poses a public safety threat. The Rules of Criminal Procedure state, “If such a determination is made, the court may impose the least onerous condition or conditions contained in Rule 7.3(b) that will reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance or that will eliminate or minimize the risk of harm to others or to the public at large.”

The Eighth Amendment prohibits judges from setting exceptionally high bail amounts, which many defense attorneys argue is tantamount to no bail.

Ward says his bill isn't broad enough to violate those protections.

“Other states have done this and it’s been upheld,” he explained.

Defense attorneys disagree, stating the bill poses a threat to defendants’ constitutional rights.

“This isn’t the first time legislators have tried to do an end-run around constitutional protections,” stated defense attorney Andrew Skier. “I have faith the courts - the appellate courts, the trial courts, maybe even the Supreme Court - will weigh in on this. We’ve been successful in the past in protecting individual rights against attacks like this.”

Skier argues denying bond for a person who’s accused of a violent crime, yet still presumed innocent, is a gross overreaction.

“No one has ever been elected in Alabama by saying they are going to be easy on crime or easy on people accused of committing crimes,” he said. “The courts are there to protect the rights of the people accused of committing crimes. In the past the courts have protected those rights and I expect that will continue.”

The bill was not available following the news conference. Ward says he’s finalizing the legislation and expects to have it pre-filed before the session starts in February.

Ward is currently running for the Republican nomination to serve on the Alabama Supreme Court.

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