Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Pierce County judges defend Clemmons bail decisions

The idea is presumed innocence.

It’s the guiding principle in criminal cases, and it applied to suspected cop-killer Maurice Clemmons this summer and fall. It’s the reason he was able to bail out of jail on multiple charges of third-degree assault, malicious mischief and second-degree child rape.

Pierce County Superior Court judges, under fire for their decisions regarding Clemmons, say the bail decisions and amounts set for his release have been misstated in some media accounts, and in some cases misunderstood. Outside of capital cases, criminal defendants have the right to bail. That’s the way the law works.

“People want judges to follow the law,” said Bryan Chushcoff, the county’s presiding judge. “The state constitution says we have to set bail and we can’t set all cash. We have to set reasonable bail. We have to allow bonds until there’s been a conviction.”

Chushcoff said the judges were considering a general statement on the issue, but remained wary of violating codes of judicial conduct regarding discussion of active cases. As of Tuesday evening, no statement had been released.

Records of Clemmons’ spin through the courts reveal that he posted bail three times, for a total of $420,000 – in cash terms, that meant $42,000.

The first bond – $40,000 – was posted Sunday, May 10, by Aladdin Bail Bonds, after Clemmons had been arrested on multiple charges of third-degree assault and malicious mischief. During that incident, he punched a county sheriff’s deputy in the face.

Clemmons used a process called “booking bail,” which allowed him to post a bond on a weekend, without appearing before a judge.

The second bond was more complicated.

Following the May arrest, subsequent investigation led to a charge of second-degree child rape against Clemmons. The victim was a 12-year-old relative. Charging papers say that Clemmons touched the victim with his hands and mouth, and tried to have sex, but the victim refused. It was a special assault case, relatively common – the court typically has 400 to 500 in its pipeline at any given time.

Parole officials in Arkansas had learned of Clemmons’ arrest and the charges, and issued a fugitive warrant for his arrest, tied to earlier convictions for aggravated robbery and burglary in that state. The Arkansas warrant, issued May 29, contained a no-bail provision, meaning Clemmons could be held without bail pending extradition.

On July 1, Clemmons was arrested and booked into the Pierce County Jail. He was charged in three separate criminal cases: the assault case from May, the child rape case and the Arkansas fugitive case.

On July 2, Judge John McCarthy tackled all three matters. He ordered Clemmons held without bail on the fugitive warrant, and set new bail bond amounts for the other two cases: $40,000 for the assault and $150,000 for the child rape charge.

“The biggest misconception is that I set bail in the amount of $15,000, when in fact I ordered that he (Clemmons) be held without bail on the fugitive case,” McCarthy said Tuesday, citing erroneous accounts in the national media.

Prosecutors asked for $200,000 on the child rape case. McCarthy set bail at $150,000. The prosecutor’s office has since said that the bail amount was unusually high, given the underlying charges. McCarthy agrees.

“I think anybody who works in this court would tell you the bail that was set in this case based on the charges was high,” he said.

At that stage, the bail amounts were a moot point, because of the Arkansas warrant and the no-bail provision. The landscape changed later in July, when Arkansas parole officials decided to rescind their warrant. That nullified the no-bail provision. Prosecutors in Pierce County were forced to dismiss the fugitive case on July 23.

That meant Clemmons was eligible for bail. He posted it July 24, with the Seattle Bonding Co., and left the jail.

Clemmons was arrested again in August, this time on a warrant filed by the Washington Department of Corrections, which had inherited parole supervision from Arkansas. This time he stayed in jail for three months while prosecutors ordered a mental health examination related to his competency to stand trial.

His next bail hearing was Nov. 12, before Judge Thomas Felnagle. Again, prosecutors argued for a $200,000 bond. Felnagle’s decisions mirrored McCarthy’s. He set the same bail amounts: $40,000 for the assault case, and $150,000 for the child rape charge. (Felnagle did not respond to a request for comment.)

Read more here. 

No comments: