Bailing out

Prosecutors making it tougher to get out of jail, lawyers say

Sangamon County State's Attorney Dan Wright says there's been no change in policy on filing petitions requiring defendants to show sources of bail are legitimate.

Sangamon County prosecutors have increased the number of petitions filed that require defendants to prove that sources of bail money are legitimate before they can be released from jail, courthouse insiders say.

As of last Friday, 42 of 365 inmates had petitions on sources of bail filed in their cases. The petitions mean that inmates must either get approval from judges before they can be released on bond or convince prosecutors to drop petitions by showing that cash is clean.

Thirty-five of the 42 inmates with petitions are African-Americans. All but seven of the petitions were filed against defendants booked this year – the jail on Friday held 274 inmates arrested in 2020 and 91 arrested in prior years. The sheriff's office says it doesn't have records showing how many inmates had petitions a year ago, but lawyers and others who make livings in the courthouse say that prosecutors are filing more petitions than in the past.

"They only really use it against these young Black guys," says Lindsay Evans, who was a Sangamon County public defender for 13 years before resigning last spring. "If a known gang member is selling drugs, they almost always use it if they think the person is going to post (bond)." Cautioning that her client pool, being deemed indigent, may not have been representative of the jail population, Evans said that she typically would have one client with a petition out of 60 or so clients in jail.

"It was rare, which was a good thing," said Evans, who criticized the Sangamon County legal system as skewed against the disadvantaged when she resigned after being passed over to become head of the public defender's office. "To hear that there's 40 pending, that's a policy change."

Not so, says Sangamon County State's Attorney Dan Wright. And race, the county's top prosecutor said, plays no role.

"There's been no change in policy – there's been no change in the way we evaluate cases based upon unique facts that never include where someone happens to be of a certain race," Wright said. "We file source of funds motions based upon the facts, not upon any immutable characteristics of a defendant."

Mark Wykoff, a defense attorney, says that he has six clients with pending proof of funds petitions filed in their cases. Prior to this year, Wykoff said that he typically, at any given time, would have one client with a proof of funds petition.

"I've never seen them invoked with the volume and frequency that we've seen in 2020," Wykoff said. "It used to be the rare occurrence. Now it's becoming the norm – it's the new normal."

Petitions don't necessarily result in judges getting involved. Wykoff said prosecutors recently withdrew a petition when the mother of a client demonstrated that she had money in a savings account and the client's father, who got a cash advance on a credit card, showed that he was employed.

Defendants who've had petitions filed in their cases by county prosecutors include defendants charged with gun offenses, drug crimes, murder and theft. Former Springfield School Board President Adam Lopez, arrested in 2018 and accused of bilking people out of nearly $1 million, has a petition filed in his case – he's charged with financial exploitation of the elderly.

Also, there is Derrick Bailey, 19, who remained in jail as of Tuesday awaiting a hearing on whether he can be released after posting $10,000 bond on Dec. 5. He's charged with possessing a weapon without having a state Firearms Owner Identification card. Arrested on Dec. 1 by Springfield police, Bailey got busted last February by Bloomington police who served a search warrant and found cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana in addition to four guns, one that had been stolen – the drugs, police estimated, were worth $25,000. Charged with seven drug offenses in McLean County, Bailey was free on $10,000 bond when he was arrested in Springfield.

Dan Fultz, Bailey's lawyer, said that his client qualifies for release. "Everybody has a right to bond as long as they meet the statutory requirements," Fultz said. He also said that an increase in petition filings began five or six months ago, but he couldn't quantify the increase.

"I can't pinpoint it, but I know they've been on the rise," Fultz said. "You used to see it just mainly in drug cases, where they may be using the profits of an illegal drug enterprise to post bond. We're starting to see it more in violent crimes."

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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