Dothan, AL (WTVY)-- State Senator Cam Ward is drafting legislation that would keep those charged with violent criminal offenses in jail until trial.
Houston County Judge Benjamin Lewis hears testimony before setting bond for a murder suspect. Pictured (L-R) are attorney Shaun McGhee, Assistant District Attorney Jarrod Blumberg, and Dothan police officer Keith Cook.
One thing motivating the Republican lawmaker is the recent high profile murder of Aniah Blanchard, a young Lee County woman killed several weeks ago.
Ibraheem Yazeed, charged with her murder, had posted bond on prior charges including kidnapping and attempted murder. Had he not been freed, Blanchard would not have died.
Ward's planned legislation is already drawing criticism from some, including highly regarded Dothan attorney Shaun McGhee.
“By letting this bill go forward you're basically assuming that defendants are guilty,” he told WTVY.
Last year, Houston County juries found two men, in separate cases, not guilty of murder.
Another case involved charges that a youth minister molested young children affiliated with his church. It took a jury only less than 30 minutes of deliberations to acquit him.
Under Ward's bill, William Wesley Williamson would have been jailed 14 months awaiting trial.
“Think about how tragic that would have been to his family and to him. There's no getting that time back,” said attorney Thomas Smith who, along with McGhee, represented Williamson.
Ward's bill, if approved, would extend to several crimes—murder, first degree rape, first degree sodomy, kidnapping, sexual abuse, sex torture and human trafficking.
Under current law, all defendants are entitled to bond except in capital murder cases.
Judges do have the discretion to raise bail amounts in cases where evidence shows the defendant is a flight risk or poses a public safety threat. However, they are prohibited for setting excessive bonds.
In Houston County, anything above $150,000 is essentially no bond because that is the maximum a bonding company can post on behalf of a defendant.
In other counties, though, rear property can be be used as security.
Ward's bill will be considered when lawmakers begin their annual session next month.