A recent story about the bonding procedures at the Boone County Courthouse used the words “illegal” in the title of the story.
We feel this word is not accurate.
The story said “illegal” bonding procedures in Boone County, allowing alleged criminals free from jail.
Court documents indicated a woman using property to illegally post bond for four people in three counties all at the same time, and that she had a lien against her from a bank, making it illegal for her to use her property.
This all may be true, but the court and its workers did nothing illegal.
The 8th Amendment to the United States Constitution declares that “excessive bail shall not be required…” Bail itself is for the sole purpose of insuring that a person charged with a criminal offense appears for all court hearings associated with the matter. Bail, by law, is not for the protection of the public.
In West Virginia, West Virginia Code section 62-1C-1 provides that all persons charged with criminal offenses have a right to bail unless that offense is punishable by life in prison. Only Murder in the First Degree and Kidnapping are punishable by life in prison. Otherwise, bail is discretionary and it is set by a magistrate or judge. Even though bail amount is discretionary, section 62-1C-3 requires the magistrate or judge to consider the seriousness of the offense, the criminal record of the accused, the financial ability of the accused, and the probability that the accused with appear in court.
Bail/bond in Boone County is commonly posted by way of personal recognizance, property or surety, and cash. When a person posts property as bond for an accused, the landowner must go to the assessor or county clerk to get documentation verifying the assessed value of the property. State law permits a property owner to double the assessed value, minus and liens or encumbrances, to post a bond; so $50,000.00 worth of real property will satisfy a $100,000.00 bond.
After obtaining the verification from the assessor or county clerk, the landowner must go to the magistrate or circuit clerk and swear under oath as to the assessed value of the property as well as the amount of any liens or encumbrances. If the landowner falsely completes the Supreme Court form, then the landowner faces criminal charges for false swearing.Boone County Prosecutor Keith Randolph said the problem originates with the state code.
“There is no requirement that anyone in the system take the next step and look and verify whether or not a bond encumberance has in fact occurred,” Randolph said.
He said applicants for bond swear to the information they provide on an affidavit, including whether they have any liens. State Code section 62-1C-4 deals with bond issuance, but never clarifies if anyone has to check to make sure the information applicants provide on their affidavit are correct.
“On that document, they have to swear that they are telling the truth, and they do so under the penalty of false swearing,” Randolph said.
So the “illegal” part is not being done by the court, but by individuals who could face charges of false swearing.