A need for increased accountability

I observed 15 hearings. The magistrate assigned four of these defendants cash bail, two had detainers, and the rest received a release on recognizance (ROR). Those released on recognizance did not have to pay any monetary sum. The ROR hearings moved particularly quickly, and the court actors did not discuss much other than the defendants’ past criminal history. For each instance in which the DA representative requested cash bail, the public defender gave the same impersonal statement on behalf of the defendant. In each case, the magistrate set bail as per the DA’s request.

The most striking observation I noted is that of the 15 hearings, the magistrate did not ever seem to consider factors other than criminal history and charges. Factors such as the defendant’s ties to the community, family relations, or mental health should always come up; and clearly that is not the case. This is an area where I see a seriously need for improvement. While the magistrate did consider the defendants’ financial situation when determining bail, factors outside income were excluded from consideration.

The court has the responsibility to act justly in each step of the criminal justice process. Yet if the very first, often pivotal, step in this process is largely misunderstood by the public, we risk losing the defendants’ right to fair proceedings. This court watchdog program is essential because it increased the accountability for all parties. It is time to shed light on the untold story of preliminary arraignments.

—Rachel, reflections from June 6, 2018

Disclaimer: The views of Philadelphia Bail Watch volunteers do not necessarily reflect the views of the Philadelphia Bail Fund and/or Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts. Sign up to volunteer with Philadelphia Bail Watch here