Bond payments on layaway

When a defendant gets a $100,000 bond in court in South Carolina,  you might assume he or she has to pay ten percent of that to get out of jail. But you would be wrong.

According to state statute, a defendant can pay as little as $25 to a bonding company and be released.

Sidney Wrenn is a former Berkeley County Sheriff’s Deputy, and a former SLED agent. “The criminals are back out on the street as soon as they get put in jail.”

He now runs Wrenn Bail Bonds and Investigations. He says the public misunderstands what is happening when a judge sets bond for a suspect.

“When they set a 10% bond on a hundred thousand dollar bond they might expect $10,000 to be posted but that’s not happening.”

If a suspect can find a willing bail bonding company, the state statute only requires as little as $25 to get out of jail. The rest of the 10% of the bond can be paid in payments. “And I’ve heard the prosecutors say they don’t understand how the criminals get out of jail so fast. Well, this is exactly how they get out.”

I spoke with 9th circuit solicitor Scarlett Wilson about the problem. “Bonds are not a punishment device. What they are designed to do is ensure a defendant’s presence in court.”

She agrees this is a serious issue that leads to additional crimes. “One of the frustrating things is, law-enforcement in particular has is, they arrest someone, especially on a serious offense, and two days later they passed the person out on the street.”

We asked Wilson whether it even matters how much a judge sets bond at if a suspect can bail out after paying $25. “That’s why we think it’s important, I think some legislators are interested in the issue.”

Wilson says she would like to see legislators set some standards for bond, especially for more serious crimes.

I decided to talk to State Senator Paul Thurmond. He is also a defense attorney. “Ultimately is it appropriate for the government to get involved? I think it is because it is an issue that puts the public safety at risk etc. The question is going to be to what extent?”

Senator Thurmond says the recent bond bill that was passed by the statehouse also sets up a bond study committee that will focus on issues just like this. “I think that your point that only posting $25 on a $50,000 bond is preposterous. I agree. I think from a practical standpoint, how do we address it? I think it is something that will be addressed when this bond study committee gets together.”

Wrenn says he is glad the issue will soon be addressed at the statehouse. He says the current systems benefits only one person.

“The bondsman gets nothing and neither does the court system get anything out of it. What happens is the criminal gets all the benefits from this type of operation.”

The bond study committee will be looking into the issue later this year. Senator Thurmond said a bill to deal with this problem may be out as soon as next year.

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