Article published June 26, 1991
At times, bail bonds just don't seem fair
Bail bonds mean different things to different people.
For a teen-age Spartanburg boy raped and kidnapped almost a year ago, it means the man accused of shattering his youth is free pending trial.
"It's frustrating," the prosecutor in the case said. "He's a good kid. I want it to be over so he can go on with his life."
For another young Spartanburg man, sheriff's detectives and police officers say bond is an opportunity to roam the Arkwright neighborhood with a pistol and commit more crimes. In two years he's been arrested on 10 separate offenses and released on bond each time by six separate magistrates, some of whom released him more than once.
Bond is money or property used as security to ensure a person shows up for trial or to plead guilty. Everyone has a right to it, but few people understand it. And other people, sometimes charged with crimes, abuse it.
The constitutionally guaranteed right of bond can be an opportunity for a person charged with a crime to continue working, to prepare a defense and to free up jail space, which is at a premium in Spartanburg County. But bond can also be an infuriating and exasperating turn of events for the victims of crime who see the accused walking the streets.
The man accused of raping the teen-ager and the young man set free on bond 10 times in the past two years are examples in Spartanburg of instances where the imperfections of the court system surface.
In the rape case, a 32-year-old Woodruff man charged with kidnapping and raping a teen-age boy last fall got his bond reduced June 14 after twice backing out of guilty pleas on June 5 and 6. Once John Yarbrough's bond was reduced from $75,000 to $50,000, his family was able to post bond. He was freed last week pending an August trial. Yarbrough must remain with his family until the trial, tentatively scheduled for late August. When Yarbrough backed out of his second plea - claiming his lawyers had not sought proper mental counseling for him - the young victim in the case broke down in the Solicitor's Office afterward.
"It did not seem just that someone who came before the court twice to plead got his bond reduced to $50,000," 7th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Beverly Jones said. The judge in the case could not accept the plea because Yarbrough questioned the work of his attorneys. If accepted, such a plea would likely be reversed on appeal and cost more money to bring to court again.
Seventh Circuit Judge James B. Stephen of Spartanburg had said he would reduce the bond if the case was not handled the week of June 3, and it wasn't. But that's because Yarbrough backed out, not because the case wasn't called for trial. Stephen pointed out in his order reducing bond that, even though Ms. Jones tried to complete the case, the key considerations a judge must consider are whether the person charged will show up for court and whether the person is dangerous.
Because Yarbrough's case is pending, he was still entitled to those considerations after his attorneys asked for a bond reduction. Stephen decided Yarbrough would appear for court and was not dangerous. The court delay is not a consideration, Stephen said. "This circumstance is really not relevant," he wrote, adding, "neither is the psychological well-being of the victim or his family relevant to the question of bail."
Reginald Eugene Harris has just about used up every opportunity for bond he's going to get. Harris, 20, of 229 Woodlawn St., Arkwright, has been able to go on with his life for the past two years despite a series of nine arrests for charges including armed robbery, crack distribution and a variety of gun charges. He got bond on each charge, totaling $100,000 worth of bonds set by magistrates.
When Ms. Jones found out about Harris from a sheriff's detective, she asked Stephen on Friday to revoke Harris' previous bonds. Stephen decided Monday to grant Harris another $10,000 bond on his latest arrest, a driving under suspension charge from June 18. Stephen wrote that if Harris is arrested for any type of charge, all his bonds will be revoked and he'll be kept in jail.
"We haven't had the resources to monitor rearresting," Ms. Jones said. She is handling Yarbrough's case, and that of Harris. "Unless we hear about it from police officers, we don't know about it," Ms. Jones said.
"A judge has to keep in mind the person's not convicted," Chief Magistrate Edward H. Overcash said. "The purpose of bond is to set a reasonable amount considering all the circumstances."
"If we had more time, we would do more of this," Ms. Jones said. Because of the separate and distinct roles of judges, police officers and prosecutors in an antiquated paper-based system of warrants, alerts don't often come up on people free on bond who keep getting arrested.
In South Carolina, magistrates, who have bond hearings for all cases except those with a life prison sentence, cannot legally withhold bond. They can set bond prohibitively high, such as a $1 million, but they must set it.
"I don't want to comment on this particular case," Overcash said of Harris on Tuesday. "You have to treat each case individually."
People can be held without bond by circuit judges for crimes such as murder or kidnapping, but not other crimes unless some unusual circumstances surround the case.
Magistrates can check the central magistrate office computer, which will list the number of times a person has been arrested. A new computer system planned to link Spartanburg police agencies, courts and clerk of court may make such checks easier, Overcash said.