Mayor Bill Bell and Judge Orlando Hudson expressed their divergent points of view during a meeting of city, county and court officials on bonding – or "pretrial release" – its philosophy and how it's practiced in Durham.
Mayor Bill Bell wants the minimum bail raised for shooting a gun in the city of Durham.
"The point is, we need to send a message," Bell said last week.
Durham court officials, though, say Durham's minimum bonds for firearms offenses are already high compared with other North Carolina counties.
"Durham far exceeds the comparable jurisdictions," Chief Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson said Thursday.
Bell and Hudson expressed their divergent points of view during a meeting of city, county and court officials on bonding – or "pretrial release" – its philosophy and how it's practiced in Durham.
"This whole conversation has to be undertaken with the fundamental premise that citizens in the United States are entitled to their liberty," said Jim Drennan, professor at the UNC School of Government, who opened the proceedings.
Presumption of innocence, he said, is "a fundamental tenet of American law," and, with some exceptions, reasonable bail "something you're entitled to" under the U.S. and state constitutions. Its purpose, Drennan said, is to "put conditions on a defendant's activities so they will show up for trial."
Bell and others in Durham have often complained that low bail amounts contribute to a "revolving door" in the justice system, by which suspects are arrested, bonded, and arrested again while free awaiting trial.
Durham recorded 26 homicides in 2011, and several cases in which bystanders were killed or wounded by random gunfire. In December, Bell called for a "different direction" in reducing violent crime, and in January suggested that the minimum bond for discharging a firearm in the city be increased from $75,000 to $300,000.
At Bell's request, City Attorney Patrick Baker has drafted an ordinance amendment to that effect, which Bell hopes Durham legislators will propose to the state General Assembly this year or next.
Hudson said a "revolving door" does not exist – "the press thinks there is a revolving door" – and Durham's bail policies were reviewed, in consultation with Bell, several years ago.
According to a handout at Thursday’s meeting, minimum bail for assault with a deadly weapon in Durham County is $1,500; in Mecklenburg County, the minimum is $1,000; in Wake, $100; in Guilford County, there is no minimum.
Mecklenburg County's minimum bond for assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and inflict serious injury is $10,000; Wake's, $50,000; Durham's is $500,000.
"I guess there's an issue as to whether this works," said Hudson.
"The tools are there to keep people in custody, if that's what you view the purpose of bail to be," he said.
Suspects free on bond may commit crimes, but, "a lot of time in life terrible things take place," Hudson said. "A political system can look and say, 'Hey, why didn't you prevent this from happening. ... We all have 20-20 hindsight."
Bell said that, as mayor, he does have a different position than those of court officials, but that Durham does need to take action.
"We're not the wild West," he said. "Do we want a community where persons can go around firing weapons? I think not."