Live 5 Investigates: Defendants accused of violent crimes bonding out of jail for as little as $25
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Some people charged with violent crimes are getting out of jail, paying as little as $25 to a bail bondsman.
A state lawmaker says it's all because of a loophole that is endangering victims and their families.
When people get arrested and wind up in jail, how long they stay there depends on the charges they are facing and the bail set by a judge.
Many do not have the money to post bond. They have the option to go to a bail bondsman.
There are many bondsmen all over the Lowcountry. And most are available 24 hours a day.
Here's how it works.
If the judge sets bond and if the defendant can't pay it, a family member or friend can go see a bondsman.
They can pay the bondsman a percentage and promise the rest in cash or put up their house or car as collateral.
The collateral paid to the bonding company will be returned when the defendant goes to trial.
Virginia Hancock believes the bail bond system in South Carolina is broken because the man accused of attacking her got out of jail after apparently paying little money.
Hancock says in December 2017 she was making spaghetti when the father of her two children, Baron Smith III, asked her to add some extra sauce to to it.
“And I was like,'Please don’t do that because it will make it too watery,' and from there, he just flipped out,” Hancock said. “He came at me. He tried to stick his fingers in my eyes and pull my eye out of my face basically. And then when I pulled him off, then he turned around and punched me in the face. He picked up a metal broom and broke it over his knee, and we were fighting and it went in my knee.”
Hancock did not press charges against Smith for the sake of her kids and because it was close to Christmas.
Two weeks later she had to call Colleton County deputies.
"He was gonna try to run me over in the driveway with my children next to me," Hancock said.
After seeing the photos of Hancock's injuries, Smith was charged with domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature.
Bond was set at $75,000.
Smith had to pay ten percent, $7,500, to get out of jail.
His family went to a bail bondsman.
"From what I understand the bail bondsman took $1,700 as a downpayment and he was out, walking free," Hancock said.
The bail bondsman who helped post the bail for Smith declined to tell me how much his family paid up front but said we were in the right ballpark.
Don Mescia is the executive director of the organization United Bail of America. Mescia’s organization keeps bonding companies updated on what’s going on in the industry.
Mescia says the current bail bond system is broken.
“It’s not fair,” Mescia said.
Mescia says one problem is that some bondsmen are charging too little up front to get someone out of jail, and then are being allowed to make payments over a period of time.
“You like to think there isn’t competition in the bail industry, but there is. The guy down the street wants to charge less than what you’re charging,” Mescia said.
That news is troubling to Lowcountry State Senator Sandy Senn.
"What they were doing was taking advantage of our statute that was really old and it allowed a bondsman to accept something as low as $25 to get people out," Senn said. "So when I learned that, I realized there's no truth in bonding at this point."
"If you only have to pay that low amount of money to get out of jail, why wouldn't you just continue to keep getting in trouble?" Hancock said.
Working with the bail bond industry, Senn pre-filed a bill to try to fix the problem.
Under the legislation, a bondsman can only accept a cash payment that doesn't exceed 15 percent of the bond, with a minimum fee of $200 or five percent, whichever is greater.
"They're gonna have to pay five percent so that is going to keep the dangerous people in jail. It's gonna make it a little bit more difficult for them to get out," Senn said.
Hancock believes if Senn's bill passes it will make a difference.
"I don't see anything getting better within the communities as long as these criminals keep going in and getting out. I don't see anything making a change to do better. I don't see families feeling protection in any type of way with people being able to get out so easy," Hancock said.
Senn’s bill is a long way from becoming law.
It will first have to go through subcommittees and committees before going to the house and senate.
We have learned Baron Smith III was indicted in January on the domestic violence charge. He also was recently arrested on drug charges.
The solicitor is trying to have Smith’s bond revoked which could have him out back in jail.
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