It’s been more than a month since Alabama House Bill 688 took effect, increasing the cost for criminal defendants to get out of jail on bond. Since June 21, people charged with misdemeanors have had to pay between $100 and $450 more per bond, with felony bond prices going up between $150 and $750 higher than previous levels.
But the biggest concern for bail bondsmen in the state has been the addition of a “filing fee” for bonds, which cost $35 for each charge.
“It’s to help raise money for the courts,” said Calhoun County Circuit Clerk Ted Hooks, explaining that the filing fee for felony bond charges in Calhoun County is split between the clerk’s office, the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office.
Hooks said it’s too early to tell what long-term impact the bill will have, but over the last month Calhoun County generated $7,758 from the $35 filing fee on felony bonds, with the cut for the clerk’s office at approximately $3,500. That’s a little lower than officials had anticipated, Hooks said, but the money would be enough to keep a full-time position at the office.
“It’s certainly going to help,” Hooks said. “Of course we appreciate everything we can get in these dire times.”
And despite concerns from bail bondsmen stuck with the additional fees, Hooks said there wouldn’t be any reason for the courts not to continue to see benefits from the new law.
“It’s not a choice,” Hooks said on the filing fee. “They have to pay it.”
It doesn’t mean they have to like it, however, and bondsmen have largely voiced their opinion against the new measures. During this spring’s legislative session, the Alabama Bail Bonding Association unsuccessfully lobbied against HB688. Among the group’s chief concerns was that people simply won’t be able to afford the increase in bonds along with the $35 fee, which in most cases is being transferred to defendants.
“It’s as expected, things have slowed up quite a bit,” said Kenny Bunn of Kenny Bunn Bail Bonds in Anniston. “A lot of people in jail can’t afford to pay these fees.”
“It makes it hard for people to get out of jail,” said Christopher Jacob Jr., an Anniston bondsman at Big Easy Bail Bonds, who said in some cases people in jail are now paying $150 more to be released from jail on minor misdemeanor drug charges.
But according to the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, those worries might be unfounded, as county jail populations remain unchanged in the month since HB688 took hold.
“There’s been no impact whatsoever,” said Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson. “I’ve heard of no one failing to make bond because of that.”
Amerson said he knows bondsmen in the state don’t like the law because it makes their jobs more difficult with additional fees and paperwork – a burden, he said, that affects the courts and sheriff’s office, too – but he doesn’t think there’s any evidence to suggest the fear of extreme overcrowding at jails will become a reality because of the law.
“For the people getting out of jail on bond, the majority of them are making payments on that fee,” Amerson said. “This new fee is just one more fee as opposed to raising the ladder higher.”
Bunn said he wasn’t buying the argument. Although he couldn’t provide numbers, he said it has been plain to see that bail bonds businesses are hurting in the area because of the law.
“I believe there are some companies that are having some problems with it,” Bunn said on the possibility of many companies going out of business. “They’re having some trouble for sure.”
Numbers after one month might not be enough to predict long-term trends, but Jacob said he thinks part of the problem might be just one of adjustment to the change. Jacob said “hopefully” business will pick up after the period of adjustment, but said a lot will depend on the economy.
“If the economy doesn’t get better, we’ll all be in trouble,” he said. “Very big trouble.”
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.