The Bulletin

Another Va. prosecutor backs away from cash bail

By: - January 7, 2019 11:33 am

Chesterfield County Sheriff Karl Leonard seeks help with his phone from participants in the Chesterfield jail’s Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (HARP) in June. (Photo by Julia Rendleman)

Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter says he’s going to stop asking judges to set cash bail in misdemeanor cases, joining prosecutors in Richmond, Chesterfield and Arlington and a judge in Fairfax who have announced similar steps.

Instead, Porter told The Washington Post that “prosecutors in his office will instead suggest that people accused of misdemeanors be released on supervision.” In cases where he believes a defendant is dangerous, he told the Post his prosecutors would simply ask that they be held in jail.

Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Herring was the first in the state to take such a step, adopting a policy that also applies in felony cases. He said the goal of cash bail is to make sure someone accused of a crime stays out of trouble and shows up to court, but that he sees no way to correlate those goals to a monetary figure.

“So, 20 or however many years ago when I was a junior commonwealth’s attorney and the judge looked down at me and said ‘Mr. Herring, what’s your recommendation on bond?’ I literally pulled it out of my ass,” he told the Mercury in November. “I’d think, ‘OK, it’s a felony, seems like it ought to be four figures, $3,500 sounds right.’”

Now he says prosecutors in his office only ask to hold defendants they deem dangerous: “If we think you’re not dangerous, you get out. … But we don’t make a money recommendation because there’s no way to assign a monetary value to risk.”

So far, all the commonwealth’s attorneys to adopt the changes are Democrats, but at least one Republican sheriff says he supports the initiatives. Chesterfield County Sheriff Karl Leonard, a Republican, told the Chesterfield Observer he’s frustrated that people in the jail oversees have been held simply because they couldn’t afford bond: “It disproportionately affects low-income people. Instead of them paying $200 and getting to leave, taxpayers have to pay $128 a day to keep them in jail. That’s ridiculous.”

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.