Bail reform needed – but not at the expense of domestic violence survivors, says Cocoon director – BG Independent News

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

The latest efforts to reform Ohio’s bail system will put victims of domestic violence at risk, victims’ rights advocates say.

The state’s bail system needs reform, said Kathy Mull, director of The Cocoon, which provides services to local victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Thousands of people who have not been convicted of crimes are incarcerated in Ohio jails because they cannot afford to post bail.

“We are not opposed to bail reform,” Mull said. “There are definitely things to change.”

But the changes proposed in House Bill 315 and Senate Bill 182 are not the answer, she said. While supporters of the bail reform bills say the changes will ensure dangerous people are not released, the provisions of the laws show otherwise, Mull said.

If the bills become law, anyone charged with domestic violence offenses must be released within 72 hours.

“It raises quite a few security issues for us,” Mull said. “Almost all cases of domestic violence are misdemeanors.”

Mull believes each case should be considered on an individual basis. In Ohio last year, 131 people died from domestic violence, a 20% spike from the previous year, according to the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. According to the YWCA of Northwest Ohio, a woman is beaten every 15 seconds in the United States.

“It’s painting a big, wide swipe” that will set perpetrators of serious domestic abuse free along with all other crimes, Mull said.

Under the bills, judges would be allowed to release defendants without holding a hearing, except in limited circumstances – such as repeat sex offenders or if the victim is a family or household member and has injuries, if a weapon was used or if the officer made a credible threat determination in the report.

In these cases, there must be a hearing, and then the defendant must be released, whatever the dangers they present.

“This creates great safety risks for survivors,” Mull said. “Most offenders go home by bike.”

According to Mull, the proposed bills conflict with two existing Ohio laws protecting the safety of victims.

The Amy Law, passed in 2005, tightened bail conditions for those charged with domestic assault or breaching a protective order. Amy’s Law was named for Amy Rezos, who called for tougher sentences for early abusers after her husband shot her twice in the head in Butler County. He was out on bail after beating her two weeks prior.

Amy’s Law requires a judge to consider 10 risk factors, including whether the offender has a history of domestic violence, mental health and substance abuse issues, and the seriousness of the offense.

Proposed bail reform bills prevent courts from considering these factors and issuing a restraining order as a condition of bail.

The Marsy law, a constitutional amendment adopted in 2017, guarantees victims the right to be present and heard during public proceedings concerning the release of the accused.

The new bills do not ensure that a victim of domestic violence has the opportunity to explain to a judge how dangerous the abuser may be to her or to the community.

“We have to think about public safety at the same time,” Mull said.

The wording of the proposed bills states that even if the judge determines that the person charged with a domestic violence offense is dangerous, their release is still required, removing the trial court’s discretion in these cases.

“There is no provision for victim protection,” Mull said. “We just increased the risk to survivors.”

Mull also fears the changes will have a “chilling effect” on domestic violence survivors who try to report their abuse. If they know their attackers will automatically be released in 72 hours, they may be afraid to call law enforcement, she said.

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