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State task force makes bail system recommendations

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Associated Press
OLYMPIA — A Washington state task force formed after the shooting deaths of four police officers recommended on Wednesday tighter regulation of bail bondsmen and more information-sharing with judges who set bail.
The suspect in the police deaths, Maurice Clemmons, bailed out of jail three times in 2009 without ever paying more than 4 percent up front, including just days before the Lakewood police shootings, the Seattle Times reported.
Unlike some states, Washington does not require people getting a bail bond to pay 10 percent of its value.
The 20-person task force, which was created to study the bail system following the police deaths, did not suggest minimum payment rates for those who get a bail bond.
Judges, prosecutors and victims’ advocates have argued for a fixed bail bond premium. But defense attorneys and others have worried that a minimum payment could hurt the poor, the Times reported.
Task force member and Snohomish County prosecutor Mark Roe said some officials were “disillusioned” they didn’t know bail bondsmen required less than 10 percent.
“To be honest, I was embarrassed,” Roe told the Times.
But the task force’s chairman, state Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said the Clemmons case was an extreme example that shouldn’t set policy. He also said a fixed premium could hurt poorer people charged with crimes.
“As a practical matter, the standard is 10 percent in almost every case,” Kline said.
Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said he favors a minimum payment for bail bonds. Without it, bail bondsmen are effectively setting bail instead of judges, Carrell said.
“If judges can’t have some certainty, then how can they ever set bail to ensure community protection?” Carrell asked.
The task force’s report recommended that the 2011 Legislature come up with “a generally recognized definition of what bail means, subject to further discussion.”
It also suggested giving judges more information about people seeking bail, such as risk-prediction tools from the Department of Corrections and mental health records. Bondsmen should also be required to go through background checks and county court systems, which verify bail-bonding companies, could be required to tell each other whether bail-bond companies are on shaky financial footing.
Voters in November approved a state constitutional amendment, also spurred by the Clemmons case, that grants judges broader authority to deny bail.

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