Assault bail cut upsets critics
In case in which woman nearly died, some contend release endangered community.
By Emma Breysse, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
September 26, 2012
County residents and victim advocates are worried 9th Circuit Court Judge James Radda put the community in danger when he reduced bail for a man accused of beating his girlfriend.
Radda reduced bail last week for Robert Larry Carmichael Jr., 28, from $20,000 cash to $2,500 cash and $12,500 surety bond. He did so over the objections of Teton County prosecutor Steve Weichman.
Carmichael has since been released from jail. He faces an aggravated assault and battery charge after he allegedly broke his girlfriend’s jaw and the bones around her eyes Sept. 10.
“This violent act was surely attempted murder, and it is an outrage to our community that this man has been allowed to walk free until his trial,” a letter to the editor signed by 16 community members reads. “Does our legal system require the man to kill the woman before he is treated as a criminal?”
Community Safety Network Executive Director Sharel Love said she and other members of her organization share the frustration expressed. The nonprofit advocates for and assists victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“Our first question is, who is served in a reduction of bail?” Love said. “It seems to me the bail was reasonable, and I don’t see how the community is served by the reduction.”
Weichman argued that the $20,000 cash bail was appropriate and reasonable.
“I know better than anyone that everyone is entitled to bail,” he said during the hearing. “But I think that when we set the bail at $20,000 cash, that was reasonable, given how serious this case is.”
Radda would not comment on the criticism, citing the need to maintain judicial impartiality.
Police arrested Carmichael after his girlfriend’s sister-in-law found her lying in her bathroom covered in blood, court files state. The couple had been drinking earlier in the evening and had a loud argument when they returned home, according to court files.
Woman nearly died
The woman was flown to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center where she had facial reconstruction surgery to repair her jaw and her orbital bone.
Weichman said in court the woman nearly died of her injuries.
Along with posting bail, Radda required Carmichael to fulfill a series of conditions, including getting substance abuse and domestic violence evaluations and having no contact with either his alleged victim or her family. He is scheduled to appear in court Thursday for a preliminary hearing.
According to the explanation Radda gives in court, every criminal defendant has a constitutional right to bail on terms that ensure both that a defendant will keep coming to court if released and that he or she doesn’t pose a threat to public safety while out of jail.
Love said part of the frustration with a case like Carmichael’s is that there is no solid system to enforce many common bail conditions.
“There should be somebody whose job that is, and I would like to know how we can help make that happen,” Love said. “Otherwise an accused offender can come into court and give their word for it. Doesn’t that put a greater burden on the judge to ask more critical questions in court?”
Radda said in an interview Tuesday there is “no good system” to track and enforce a defendant’s compliance with pre-trial release conditions. Probation and parole officers have no authority before someone is sentenced, he said.
Between setting bail and sentencing, the courts rely on a system that many agree could be improved. The easiest condition to enforce is that defendants not drink alcohol, Radda said. In most cases where alcohol is a factor, Radda can require the defendant to take daily breath tests at the Teton County Jail to monitor whether he or she has been drinking. In those cases, jail staff notifies the court of any violations, he said.
Requirements relating to evaluations are second easiest to enforce. Court officers can alert Radda and Weichman if an evaluation’s results aren’t filed on time.
If treatment is recommended, providers keep track and are required to notify the court of any violations, Radda said.
Other than that, the court is unlikely to hear about violations, especially of conditions like no-contact orders, unless someone reports them, he said.
“I think the general consensus is that it would be great to have a pre-trial release person,” he said. “I think it’s highly unlikely we’ll get one, given the current state budget.”
Efforts to streamline
Efforts are underway to streamline and centralize the enforcement information the court does have in place. That might include new software that would allow jail employees and treatment providers to access case information on a website.
“We’ve been looking at whether there is a way to close that gap, a grant or something,” Radda said. “So far this is what we’ve found.”
Recent history shows some of those gaps do end up letting potential danger through.
In March, Mica Alan Lohrey was arrested on a felony attempted strangulation charge before he made bail and was released.
Prosecutors now allege that he violated release conditions his first night out.
In May, 9th District Court Judge Timothy Day revoked Lohrey’s release and set his bail at $100,000 cash after prosecutors charged him with six new crimes he allegedly committed as a bailee.
According to court files, Lohrey is accused of stalking the alleged victim in his first case for a period of weeks and raping a second woman the same night he made bail.
It wasn’t until the two women reported the violations and Teton County sheriff’s deputies conducted detailed investigations that Lohrey was arrested for the second time.
Court documents further allege that, despite release conditions to the contrary, Lohrey was observed drinking alcohol several times before his release was revoked.
It can be a tricky path to walk, Radda said, while avoiding reference to any specific case.
“I have to set bail based on the information in the file in front of me at that time,” he said. “I can’t go off of anything else.”
Love said the problem is that the risk of violent behavior by people accused of violent offences increases during brushes with the legal system.
“It’s when they feel backed into a corner,” she said, “like when they’re dealing with the court system, that you get a temporary increase in the risk.
“I think it’s worthwhile for these cases to go to court, I believe in justice,” she said. “But we have to be prepared to put things in place during that temporary time when the risk is higher to protect the victim and the community.”