CULLMAN - In a continuation of our series about understanding bail bonds, the Tribune sat down with Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry to get a law enforcement/Cullman County Detention Center point of view.
When suspects are brought into the Cullman County Detention Center, they might be able to walk back out before having to see a judge.
Gentry explained, "When someone comes into the jail, we have a chart we go by to set the bonds. You can't go outside the scope of the range; you have to be within the bond range. We bring in 30 people a day; those 30 won't go see the judge that day. But we already know what the bond amount's going to be when they come in. When you come in on possession of a controlled substance, $5,000; trafficking, $1 million. If we ask for an amount that's higher than what's set, we have to petition a judge or the magistrate, and they'll set the higher bond. We have paperwork we have to fill out to say why we're requesting the higher bond. If it's a bad case, and we want a $100,000 cash bond, we submit to the judges or the magistrates- typically it's the judge- we want this higher bond because of this crime."
The suspect will, at some point, appear before a judge or magistrate (magistrates handle minor cases, while judges get those that are more serious or complex). At that time, the initially-assigned bail amount will be reviewed.
"When they go for their hearings," said Gentry, "the amount can go higher or lower, depending on what the judges want to do."
Property bonds vs. cash bonds
As bonds can be set for various amounts, there is also a decision to be made about how that bail is to be paid.
Gentry stated, "Here in Cullman, for trafficking offenses, typically, we set it at $1 million property. But we also do cash bonds, and that's why it's so confusing, because the magistrate or the judge will set cash bonds for us."
Gentry went on to explain the difference:
"A property bond- I get four or five people that have property that might equal up to $1 million. Those people come and sign the bond. You've got people that put their property up, but it doesn't really cost them any money.
"But let's say we have just a heinous crime, and it may be $100,000 cash. What the difference is, you've got five or six people that may have a million dollars’ worth of property--they can come up and sign the bond, and the person gets out. But with a $100,000 cash bond, they've got to bring $100,000 cash to the clerk's office and pay that into the court before that person can get out. So, it may look lower on paper, but essentially cash bonds are more effective, because you have to go put that amount of cash into the court."
The Tribune concluded by posing an example, based on questions and comments recently submitted by readers: How can child molesters get a $50,000 bond, while drug dealers get a $1 million bond?
"On sex cases, we always set cash bond," replied Gentry. "A $50,000 cash bond is stronger than a $1 million property bond, and that's why we petition for cash bonds. That means they're taking $50,000 cash and depositing it in the court to make their bond. The average person cannot do that. That's why cash bonds are stronger than property bonds. The average person seeing that in the media doesn't understand the difference."
Look for more perspectives in coming articles.
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