The Hennepin County Attorney recently announced a list of nineteen non-violent felony crimes that prosecutors will no longer request bail for after an arrest. Bail is a financial obligation that works by releasing a defendant in exchange for money. The court then holds that money until all of the proceedings surrounding the suspect are completed. Once the case is resolved, the suspect receives the money back if they paid it on their own. Now, if a suspect is charged with any of the following crimes, they will remain free until the next court hearing. Instead of bail, suspects will make a promise to the court to appear at all court hearings and follow any release conditions that may be set by the judge. These conditions may include not consuming alcohol or using firearms.
Starting January 1, 2021, Hennepin County stated it will no longer request bail for the following offenses:
• Counterfeiting currency;
• Damage to property;
• Dishonored check;
• Fifth-degree sale or possession of narcotics;
• Fourth-degree sale or possession of narcotics;
• Fraudulent identification or driver’s license
• Identity theft;
• Insurance fraud;
• Lottery fraud;
• Mail theft;
• Possession of burglary/theft tools;
• Possession of shoplifting gear;
• Possession of counterfeit check;
• Sales of simulated controlled substances;
• Theft of a motor vehicle;
• Theft under $35,000;
• Wrongfully obtaining public assistance; and
• Wrongfully obtaining unemployment benefits.
The goal of the reform is to protect public safety and ensure court appearances. The goal is not to simply punish people. Often times people lose their jobs when they cannot meet bail and are required to wait in jail until their court hearings. In turn, this makes their financial situation even worse. This essentially led to a situation where those who could afford cash bail were able to buy their freedom, while those who could not afford cash bail were forced to sit in jail.
With the reform, prosecutors will not be requesting bail on cases where the law calls for judges to release the suspect anyway. This will also reduce the prison population which will improve prison conditions. One of the goals of the reform is to help with reduce racial disparities in jail. According to the Hennepin County Attorney, African American suspects make up 57% of those charged with the nineteen offenses last year. Instead of sending the suspects to jail, Hennepin County will now be able to employ other options such as GPS tracking, mental health support, chemical dependency, etc., to ensure that suspects will appear at their court hearings.
Bail may still be required for “exceptional cases.” Those cases may include a suspect who has outstanding charges or a history of not showing up to court. Although we are not sure if this new reform is one that is here to stay, it is a small step in the right direction for dismantling cash bail in Minnesota. For more information contact the Minneapolis Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ambrose Law Firm.
Erin Powers is a Law Clerk at Ambrose Law Firm, PLLC in Minneapolis, MN. Erin is a second-year law student at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. Before law school, she graduated magna cum laude from the University of Minnesota. Erin also volunteered for the Center for Integrity in Forensic Science. Criminal Defense Lawyers Minneapolis MN; Criminal Attorneys Minnesota; and Drug Crimes Attorney MN.