Legislative Hall, Dover Delaware

Legislative Hall, Dover

Several state lawmakers said Tuesday it's time to try again with bail reform in Delaware.

The previous Delaware General Assembly approved measures that essentially tightened the requirements to justify holding someone on high cash bail. Judges received access to data and a risk assessment tool in making their determinations.

Critics said the result is a system under which potentially dangerous people are released with no bail whatsoever.

"There's no question in my mind that Delaware is more dangerous today than it was in the past," State Senator Colin Bonini (R- Dover South) said. "I think public safety has been compromised by the sort of 'let 'em out, let 'em all out, don't detain anybody' culture that we're creating." 

At the time of the debate, Senator Bryan Townsend (D- Newark-Bear) said "We know the detrimental effect on public safety on an individual's future when they languish in jail--not because they're a risk to the community-- but simply because they are not able to afford bail."

Tuesday, Townsend said some early confusion may have allowed some defendants to "walk" without being assigned bail, but the new system was having the desired effects. 

"The changes have shown we are having fewer reoffenses, we're having fewer failures to appear for court proceedings, and we're doing all of that without having to spend as much money on pretrial detention," Townsend said. "We're able to spend money more on other law enforcement and public safety measures and victim services."

"It's unfortunate that some lawmakers are taking a few examples and trying to make it seem like the whole system is failing," Townsend added.

On the day of the vote in 2018, Bonini spoke out against it for several minutes - a statement he now describes as a "tantrum" in anticipation of the unintended consequences he said are now playing out.

"We've created a system where I think judges are afraid to try to remand people or set high bails for potentially dangerous folks," Bonini said.

"We are forgetting that it's not just the opportunity for someone to have assurance of appearing in court, but it's also for the protection of our victims," Representative Steve Smyk (R-Milton-Lewes) said. Smyk is also a retired Delaware State Trooper.

"We need to be concerned about victims, and we need to be concerned about public safety," Bonini said. "That's what this is all about."

The Delaware Judiciary Tuesday in a statement indicated that an Interim Rule was adopted last December that includes a list of "signal crimes," giving judges the flexibility to set high bails when the offense warrants it, such as sex crimes, gun crimes, and crimes involving violence and domestic violence. Stakeholders have continued to meet and discuss issues.

Information about a defendant's rearrest and failure to appear under the new system is collected, and judges are awaiting a report from the Statistical Analysis Center. Preliminary information from the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System, according to the statement released by Courts spokesperson Sean O'Sullivan, shows that the failure to appear rate increased from 23 percent to 24 percent from 2018 to 2019. The new-criminal activity rate dropped from 22 percent to 21 percent. The number of pretrial detainees had dropped by seven percent.