Accused killer walks, a dress-code violator sits in jail

Daniel J. Dew Jul 21, 2017

This op-ed appeared in the Dayton Daily News.

An accused serial killer walked out of police custody only to commit another felony. Around that same time, another man was held in jail for violating a dress code. His crime — wearing a hoodie and saggy pants inside an RTA hub. The alleged murderer walked free, while the man with droopy drawers sat in jail. The reason? One had access to money while the other didn’t.

When four young men went missing in rural Pennsylvania, Cosmo DiNardo was arrested as the prime suspect to their murder. Pennsylvania, like most of Ohio, relies on cash bail. In a cash bail system, if a defendant is able to put up the required money to the court, either on his own or with the help of a bail bond agent, the defendant can walk away until trial.

DiNardo’s bail was set at $1 million. DiNardo’s family was able to pull together the necessary 10 percent to be released. Once released, DeNardo was rearrested and charged with stealing and trying to sell a car belonging to one of the victims. Bail was now set at $5 million. Before his parents could raise the necessary funds, DiNardo confessed to committing the murders and burying the bodies on his family farm.

Meanwhile, in Dayton, Markcus D. Brown sat in jail for nine days after he was arrested by the fashion police for his heinous crime of not meeting RTA’s dress code. Bail was set $150 — which may not sound like a lot of money to many, but it took Brown’s mother nine days to get a car title loan to post bail. Aside from the ridiculousness of the alleged “crime,” all should agree the nine days Brown spent in jail is outrageous.

Pretrial release should be based on the risk the defendant poses to society, not how much money he or she has access to. That is why places like Lucas and Cuyahoga counties in Ohio are moving away from cash bail in favor of evidence-based, risk assessment tools.

Risk assessment tools are designed to give judges better information to make pretrial release decisions. Instead of relying on cash deposited in court coffers or put into the pockets of bail agents to make our communities safe, bail reform allows judges to deny bail altogether for dangerous defendants and set meaningful conditions for others, such as electronic monitoring and regular court check-ins.

Pretrial release policy needs to be fair and safe.

More than 35 percent of people sitting in Ohio jails are awaiting trial. In the United States, people are still innocent until proven guilty and because defendants have not been convicted of a crime, pretrial release policies should be geared to releasing as many defendants as is safely possible. However, bail reform isn’t just about releasing more people, it is about releasing the right people.

There are people, like DiNardo, who are so dangerous that, as a safety precaution, they should be locked up before trial. Unfortunately, when courts rely on cash to determine who is released, dangerous people like DiNardo walk.

These new policies are seeing success. Since moving to risk assessment tools, Lucas County (Toledo) is now releasing more defendants before trial, and those defendants are committing less crime while awaiting trial, and more of them are showing up for court.

When bail reform is done the right way, the system is fairer to people who cannot afford bail, counties suffering from jail overcrowding get relief as more people are released, and communities are safer because decisions are grounded in evidence rather than allowing dangerous people to buy their way out of jail.

Daniel J. Dew is a legal fellow at The Buckeye Institute’s Legal Center and an expert in criminal justice reform.