December 4, 2021

Law enforcers expect bail reform to revive chase

Bail-jumpers not always held when caught under new law

Handcuffed person stock image

Stock image

When two Cortland County sheriff’s officers caught a fugitive in Tennessee this month, they were lucky. They had extra felony charges on which to hold him.

If they hadn’t had them, the scofflaw could have been released again, because bail-jumping is not a charge that a judge can use to require bail.

“Bail-jumping is not a bail-eligible offense, as ironic as that may seem,” said Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti.

Before this year, Perfetti would use money from assets forfeited from criminal suspects to fund the retrieval, but in anticipation of what the state’s new bail reform would require and changes in how he could use forfeited assets, he asked for an extra $20,000 from Cortland County.

He didn’t get it.

The state’s new law means most people charged with a non-violent felony are to be released without bail, even if they have no particular tie to the community. Some may decide not to return for their criminal cases.

Retrieving scofflaws — be they people who jumped bail or people released without bail who fail to return to court — is a game of cat and mouse, said Sheriff’s Lt. Todd Caufield.

It also means a bill to the county every time Perfetti must bring back someone for a case — about $20,000 a year for the past two years.

Caufield said the bill for each case could be anywhere from several hundred dollars or several thousand dollars.

“Expenses are going to be different for each scenario,” he said.

The sheriff’s department will work with the district attorney to find the cheapest way of getting to the person, what’s the cheapest hotel, food costs.

“This isn’t a luxury trip, this is a business trip,” Caufield said. “We’re taxpayers too, so we’re not going to stay at the Waldorf Astoria. We do it at the very minimal expense that we can to help on everyone’s budget because we know that falls back on the taxpayer.”

A female suspect needs at least one woman to retrieve her, Caufield said, but otherwise, the decision of who to send rests largely on who in the department is available — and who faces overtime: road patrol officers, investigators, corrections officer, whomever.

Still, costs add up.

Caufield, who has been with the department for 34 years, said he’s been as far as Billings, Montana and Tucson, Arizona to get people. Others have gone as far as California and the county once got ready to send officers to Puerto Rico until the state Attorney General’s office stepped in.

Perfetti said he’s had to extradite 27 people since he took office in 2016 — about nine a year.

Perfetti has little choice. He can take into account whether he can actually make the criminal case against the suspect, and said he once decided to let a defendant go when the suspect jumped bail with the prime witness against him. He could bring the suspect back, but not the witness.

However, he said “there is a duty to go down there and retrieve the fugitive” when there is a case that he can bring to court.