Legislation that would have expanded the power of judges to hold some criminal defendants without bail failed to clear the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, killing the measure for the session.
Mobile public safety officials had pushed the bill, which they argued was necessary to clarify what they say the U.S. Supreme Court already has affirmed – that judges can detain anyone deemed dangerous or a flight risk.
The state House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed it earlier this month, but the Senate Judiciary Committee effectively killed it because of a lack of quorum.
Mobile Public Safety Director James Barber, who traveled to the state capital in Montgomery with Police Chief Lawrence Battiste, expressed disappointment. He noted that lawmakers will meet in a special session in the fall to address prison reform.
“We’re going to try to get it on that,” he told FOX10 News. “If not, we’ll be back next year.”
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Chip Brown (R-Mobile), would have offered voters the chance to amend the state constitution to grant specific authority to judges to detain anyone charged with a Class A felony to be denied bail “when the proof of guilt is evident or the presumption of guilt is great” and in cases where “no condition of release can reasonably protect the community” from the risk of physical harm or that the defendants will skip out on court appearance.
Barber testified at the committee hearing Isaiah Kelly, who received bail following his arrest in connection with a November 2017 shooting that wounded two on Catherine Street. Police later arrested him and charged him with a shooting at the Trinity Gardens Mardi Gras parade, although a judge later found there was insufficient evidence to send the case to a grand jury.
Mobile County District Attorney Ashely Rich told FOX10 that the incident was not an isolated case.
“There have been too many,” she said. “I can’t even keep them straight at this point, because, you know, the community is incensed that people who have committed crimes and been given the opportunity to have a bond and have been asked to commit no further crimes or offenses, go right back out and re-offend, and oftentimes commit violent offenses.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and the Southern Poverty Law Center opposed the change, arguing that it could allow people accused of relatively minor crimes to be jailed without bail.
Rich said some judges insist on giving bail even to people who pose a danger unless they are charged with capital offenses. But she said other judges regularly deny bail, in accordance with Supreme Court precedent, when prosecutors have demonstrated defendants pose a danger to public safety or are a risk of fleeing.
“We will continue to argue every day in court that if the defendant was on bond and committed a new offense, he has forfeited the conditions of his bond and should be held with no bond, especially if he’s a danger to the community or a flight risk,” she said.