A recent headline in the News & Observer read, “Elderly couple at risk of losing home to schools.”
The facts about the case are these: In 2008, Mark Brodie was charged with trafficking heroin, possession with intent to sell, maintaining a place to sell drugs and being a habitual felon. Bail was set at $90,000. His parents put up their home as security for the bond, and Mark Brodie went free. Then he fled the state and went to California.
Now the court is in the process of executing on the bond. Since his parents do not have the money to pay the bond, they may lose their home. They are 84 and 86 years old, and one of them is ill.
The parents decided to sign their son’s bond. That was an act of charity springing from love. Therefore I am not criticizing that decision.
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Two of the probable reasons that the bond was set so high could have been: First, he was believed to be an habitual criminal. Second, if he was selling drugs it is best for him to stop. Best for the public and best for him.
Sometimes, in cases like this, the best and safest place for a defendant is in jail. If he is a drug addict, a short period of time in jail would get the drugs out of his system. If he is running wild, it would give him a chance to reflect. It can break a pattern of lawlessness.
This is particularly true in cases involving drugs or alcohol. If the defendant is a first time offender, and if he is not an alcoholic, a short stay behind bars may emphasize the seriousness of the charge. It may be exactly what he needs. If the defendant is an alcoholic or drug abuser, his release could be a tragic mistake.
The defendant or his attorney will have the opportunity to ask for a bond reduction.
While I was a judge, thousands of people have come into court and asked me to reduce bonds.
Here is a common request:
A wife takes out a warrant against her husband alleging that he beat her.
After he is jailed, the wife comes into court and says, “Judge, he and I have three children, and I need him to be free so he can work.” In these cases, only God knows the best answer.
One mistake in signing a bond is that we react too quickly. Here is a case: Our son tells us how desperately he wants to be free. He is upset, and our heart goes out to him. However, he desperately wants to get out of jail; and the desperation may tempt him to say things that are not true. He may claim that the officer was picking on him, that he didn’t get his legal rights, or that the crime was not serious. He may omit some important facts about the case.
He may claim that he is not guilty. In that case we should use common sense and discretion.
When a friend or family member asks you to sign a bond, it is not easy to refuse. Many times we will say “yes” and almost immediately, as the danger sinks in, we will wish we had not said that.
There are cases in which signing a person’s bond is an appropriate thing to do. The defendant may be innocent. The purpose of this article is to suggest that people think things through before they do it.
When considering the possibility of signing a bond, love is not enough.
That is, unless we understand tough love.
Stanley Peele, a life-time resident of Chapel Hill, served as a North Carolina trial judge for 47 years in 62 counties.