ATHENS COMMISSIONERS CONTEMPLATE CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

City Hall in Spring

The Athens Clarke County Commission addressed criminal justice reform again at a work session on the 20th of March. In this session, the Commission considered recommendations presented by Athens Municipal Court Judge Ryan Hope. These proposals include issuing citation or tickets rather than arresting people, seeking to expand pretrial services as well as improving and increasing access to social services, among other reforms and new approaches.

In 2018, the Georgia state legislature passed a new law directing judges to take into consideration the financial situation of defendant when setting bail bonds.

The new law allows judges to release people accused of most misdemeanors and local ordinance violations on an O.R. basis in other words on their own recognizance if they sign a document promising to show up for their court date. No longer are cash bonds required in a wide range of criminal offenses.

“It was a good first step,” according to Judge Hope. However, the bill didn’t go as far as reform many advocates want to push it. Judge Hope suggested revising the current bond schedule to include more OR, or own recognizance, bonds.

Another new change coming in from action at the State Legislature is to reduce the number of arrests by issuing misdemeanor citations.

Essentially, individuals who are suspected of misdemeanor crimes such as shoplifting or possession of marijuana would not be arrested on the scene at all, but rather cited and released instead.

According to reporting in Flagpole https://flagpole.com/news/city-dope/2019/03/27/commission-tackles-criminal-justice-reform ticket and release reform was set to go into effect earlier; however, local law enforcement stated they felt the new reform was “dropped on them,” since it required those arrested to be fingerprinted when they received a citation and for police officers to run background checks on those individuals they planned to release with citations instead of arresting.

Judge Hope said Athens-Clarke County and UGA police lack the equipment to fingerprint on the scene. Another bill is likely to pass the legislature this year that will give law enforcement other means to identify suspects on the scene according to Judge Hope. This new, expanded cite-and-release policy is now scheduled to go into effect July 1st 2019.

Just because people may be cited instead of arrested or allowed to bond out on their own recognizance that will not mean there are no longer legal ramifications to be faced in criminal court. Criminal Defense Lawyers in Athens worry that this new lack of early on consequences will not be matched the outcomes in court and whether people realize this or not is yet to be determined.

Police may decide to issue a ticket instead of make an arrest but citizens can still end up on probation or with a criminal record if they fail to take the appropriate steps to protect themselves.

There is no forecast shortage in laws declaring things illegal, imposing sentences and causing lasting problems. It still behooves folks to seek excellent representation from a skilled Athens Defense Attorney whether they only receive a ticket instead of an initial ride to the grey bar motel.