The $28 Question: What is wrong with the system?

It’s to compensate them for the burden of having to also take your $100. Guilty… Innocent… Not guilty by reason of insanity… whatever. Kiss that money goodbye.

What is this? The almighty dollar.

I love a weird theory.  This is America, after all.  Think what you want… that is your right.  You think that life demands us to hop on the spaceship following Comet Hale-Bopp?  Have a good flight.  Maybe you’re right and I’m wrong.  What do I know about spaceships and comets?  Nothing, really.

I have my own weird theories.  One of them is that the criminal justice system shouldn’t be looked as a “revenue generating”  source.  I get really nervous when I hear about the government siphoning money off of the accused.  My thought is that “raising revenue” and “truth” don’t always work well together.  If the system is focused on making money, guilt/innocence become less important and we are a lot more willing to jail innocent people.  The thought of innocent people caged up like animals at the zoo keeps me awake at night.

If the first part of my weird theory is that the criminal justice system shouldn’t be all about money, the second part of my theory is that the criminal justice system is all about money- to the government. Before you get to telling me that the second part of my theory isn’t weird, you’re wrong.  Maybe not “weird” in the same sense that people thought Michael and Latoya Jackson were the same people.  My theory is certainly weird in the sense that it’s not the prevailing thought.  Don’t think it’s all about money?  Everything is all about money.  Ask the philosophers of the Wu-Tang Clan.

Cash rules everything around me, right?  I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking that the Wu-Tang Clan doesn’t represent the thinking of the majority of the people.  No?  I believe that the “proof is in the pudding.”  Want proof?  Take a closer look at the way the bond system works.

Let’s assume you get arrested on a low-grade misdemeanor.  You’ve got to post $100 to bond out.  Because you’ve either been arrested by the Sheriff’s Department, or couldn’t raise the money quick enough for your local department, you’ve got to post it at the County Jail.  You give them the $100 and get freed on bond, right? Wrong.  If you’re in McHenry County, you give them $128.  That’s $100 in bond and a $28 sheriff’s fee.  The $100 bond is held by the clerk. Its purpose is to ensure you show up on your court dates.  In theory you get it back when the case is over.

That $28, though?  What is with that?

That’s the Sheriff department’s cut.  It’s to compensate them for the burden of having to also take your $100.  Guilty… Innocent… Not guilty by reason of insanity… whatever.  Kiss that money goodbye.

$28 not a big deal?    That’s $28 for each of the thousands of people posting bond at the jail (not convicted or found guilty) of everything from driving without a valid license to Murder.  You can even be forced to post bond on a seat belt ticket.  And, $28 is on the low side.  In Kane County, that fee is $46!  That’s $46 you pay for the privilege of letting them take your other money!  Why? I don’t know.

I’m thinking that fee is a decent part of the over $2,000,000 in revenue the McHenry County Sheriff brings in through “fees and services.”  Granted, a lot of that is “service of process” and other things.  Still, $28 for each person posting bond at the jail (guilty or not) is nothing to sneeze at.  And the issue isn’t really how much money the Sheriff brings in on the fees, it’s why should the government make any money on somebody who may not be guilty?

In my world, if you’re arrested by the police, forced to pay the $28 sheriff’s fee and are not convicted, that $28 should be sent right back to you in the same envelope with a letter of apology from the people who arrested you.  Of course, that’s just my world… and my weird theory.  Take it for what it is, but at least I’m not trying to catch a ride on a UFO.

That’s also just the tip of the iceberg.  The bond money you posted comes back when you’re found not guilty, right?  Well, yes. And, no.  You get your money back minus “the vig.”   Why does the clerk keep a cut?  Because they had to hold your money, of course.  They’re just like a bank except they don’t pay you interest- instead they keep the interest that was accrued during your case and also keep their vig.  Maybe more like a loan shark, then.

The vig, by the way, is 10% of whatever you’ve posted for bond.  Posted $100 (plus the sheriff’s fee) on that misdemeanor?  Best case is that you’ll get $90 back.  Posted $500,000 on that murder you didn’t do?  Well, you just lost $50k, and the government doesn’t care that you didn’t do it.  While you’re out $50k plus the cost of an awesome lawyer, the government just made $50k, plus the sheriff’s fee, plus any interest accrued on $500,000 and you weren’t even guilty.

How is that fair? It’s not… in my weird world, anyway.


Author: matthaiduk

Matt Haiduk is a criminal defense lawyer in Illinois. He loves his dog. And pizza.