Published: Jan 12, 2013 12:00 AM
Modified: Jan 12, 2013 05:43 PM
DURHAM - Mayor Bill Bell’s proposal to toughen bail-bond rules for some suspects in gun-crime cases got a qualified endorsement from the Durham Crime Cabinet Friday.
Ten members of the group voted to recommend that the City Council and Durham county commissioners add it to their legislative wish lists for the current General Assembly session.
However, four members, including Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey, abstained from voting.
“The effort is right; I’m just worried about the law and the constitutional rights of people,” Morey said.
The Crime Cabinet unanimously endorsed proposals from Morey and the District Attorney’s office to reclassify shooting into occupied property and some firearm offenses by minors as more serious crimes than in the current state laws. Those will also go on the city and county legislative agendas.
The Crime Cabinet consists of city, county, law-enforcement and judicial officials and members of citizen anti-crime organizations. The group meets every other month to exchange information and make recommendations for crime reduction and improving the county’s judicial system.
Bell’s proposal would amend the state statute on pre-trial release (Section 15A-533: bit.ly/TEFrqI
) by removing magistrates’ authority to approve bail. It would require suspects to convince a judge that bail is sufficient to guarantee their appearance in court, and that releasing the suspect does not pose “an unreasonable risk of harm to the community,” if:
• The suspect was arrested for a firearm-involved offense while already on pretrial release for another gun-related offense; or
• The suspect has been convicted of a firearm offense and not more than five years has elapsed since the date of conviction or the person’s release for the offense, whichever is later.
The amendment is based on rules already in effect for narcotics trafficking and gang-related crimes, said City Attorney Patrick Baker. Bell and Baker drafted it after discussions with judicial authorities and state Rep. H.M. “Mickey” Michaux.
In early 2012, Bell proposed setting a minimum $300,000 bond for firearm suspects in Durham. After the idea met opposition from judges, legal authorities and Durham legislators. Michaux suggested that amending the existing state law, instead of promoting a Durham-only regulation, could achieve similar ends.
Morey had previously said she had reservations about removing magistrates’ authority to set bonds, and that deciding if there is or is not “an unreasonable risk” would be a difficult challenge for a judge.
“Of course I think there’s going to be a risk,” she said. She also said there could be issues over suspects’ constitutional rights to pre-trial release.
“I well understand that bail bonds are not meant to be punitive,” Bell said. “I also understand that persons are presumed to be innocent of charges until proven guilty in a court of law. ... However, it’s important that we in Durham send a signal that illegal use of guns in Durham will not be tolerated.”
Police Chief Jose. L. Lopez, Sheriff Mike Andrews and Duke University Police Chief John Dailey were among those voting to support the amendment.