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Aniah’s Law could deny bail to repeat felony offenders

A bill in the House of Representatives could allow judges to deny bail to people charged with Class A felonies who are judged as dangerous or a flight risk. 

Aniah’s Law — named for Aniah Blanchard, a 19-year-old woman killed late last year after being abducted from the Auburn area — would give judges the option to deny bail to people charged with felonies that include murder and first-degree rape, kidnapping, robbery and burglary, among other offenses. The man accused of killing her, 30-year-old Ibraheem Yazeed, was out of jail on bond after being charged with attempted murder, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree robbery in February last year, according to court documents. Yazeed had also been charged with attempted murder and first-degree robbery in 2012. 

House Bill 81, which would establish Aniah’s Law, was sponsored by Rep. Chip Brown, R-Mobile. Brown explained that the proposed amendment to the state constitution would allow district attorneys the chance to argue against bail for people charged with Class A felonies who have a history of criminal charges. 

“Currently under Alabama law you can only hold a person without bond if they’re charged with capital murder,” Brown said by phone Monday. Under the new rule, he said, “the district attorney can request an evidentiary hearing and present evidence why a person is an imminent threat to the community or a flight risk.”

If a judge agrees, the person can be held without bond until they go to trial. Brown had presented the bill during last year’s legislative session, where it passed the House 92 to 3, but it died in the Senate when the session ended.

Elijah Blanchard, Aniah’s father, said by phone Tuesday that he had been voicing his support for the bill. It may have made an impact on his daughter’s case, he said, citing Yazeed’s history, which could have made him a candidate to have his bail denied. 

“That probably would have helped in this particular case,” Blanchard said. “I would never want another parent to go through a tragedy if there were any way possible it could have been prevented.” 

Brown said the bill was inspired by cases similar to Aniah’s. He cited an attempted carjacking in which a Mobile woman was shot in the eye by a man who had been released on bond. The woman survived, but the incident stuck with Brown. 

“It’s a crusade, more or less, for me,” he said. “As I’ve gone on with this the last year or two, I’ve met so many families across the state that felt like this could have an impact on their loved ones.” 

If the bill makes it through the Legislature, Alabama residents will be able to vote to approve the constitutional amendment in November, Brown said. 

Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade said Wednesday that he supports the bill as it’s written. He said that when cases like Aniah’s arise, people can become fearful that something similar will happen to their loved ones. The amendment, he said, could relax some of that stress, without a meaningful impact on the jail’s population level. 

“It’s not going to put a strain on my jail population, and if someone is dangerous to society, I want them in my jail,” Wade said. “That is the absolute reason why the jail exists. We’ll do what we have to do to make sure they’re there and accommodated.” 

Representatives for both the Southern Poverty Law Center and American Civil Liberties Union declined to comment for this story.

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.