Breaking Down Bond Court: A closer look at electronic monitoring

January 18, 2010

Thomas Miller in Cook County Jail (Tony Arnold/WBEZ) As I mentioned in my story looking into Cook County's Central Bond Court operations, there are four basic options judges have when handing out their decision in bond court. In this blog entry, I'm going to focus on electronic monitoring (also known as EM). It's a release mechanism many observers of the court think could be used more frequently, mostly because it could help reduce the population at Cook County Jail (as of January 15, 2010, a sheriff's spokesman says the population is around 8,500 ), and electronic monitoring costs less than keeping a defendant awaiting trial in jail. EM has been the subject of past reports we've done here at WBEZ. Seeing as electronic monitoring is one of the big issues in Cook County's criminal justice system, I made that part of my reporting in the goings on at Central Bond Court. Here's one story of EM I encountered: One of the defendants I followed from the beginning of his courtroom proceedings to the end was 18-year-old Thomas Miller. He was arrested in late May, 2009. To add to the drama of being arrested, Thomas told me the police picked him up the day before he was to finish up his last credit to graduate high school. So what did Chicago police arrest him for? According to the police report, officers were doing a surveillance on Thomas and another person he was with, Arturo Coronel. The two were hanging out outside, when a UPS truck pulled up. Thomas signed for the package. The two moved the package to the trunk of a car and that's when police went into action. The arresting officer wrote up that the package contained 20 pounds of marijuana. Both Thomas and Arturo were arrested. This was the first arrest for Thomas. When he got to Central Bond Court, Thomas was called before the judge after Arturo. Because they were co-defendants, most of the charges were similar for both of them. Thomas' hearing was short -- likely so that too much time wouldn't be spent rehashing the same charges everyone had already heard. Due to the large amount of pot they allegedly had, the judge gave Thomas a $200,000 D-bond. That meant Thomas's family needed to pay $20,000 to get him out of jail. The first time I met Thomas, who is from Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood, he was wearing a tan jump suit. It had been about a month since his arrest, and there was no indication he would get out any time soon. In our interview, Thomas got pretty emotional talking about his family. bond court blog audio 1 Thomas also told me his life plans. He said he wanted to graduate from high school and get a college degree so he could become a wildlife officer. Throughout my correspondence with him, he would frequently tell me about his hunting trips in downstate Illinois. Thomas's family couldn't afford the $20,000 to get him out of jail to await trial. But they could afford a private attorney. After a few hearings in front of Judge John Doody (hearings that lasted longer than his bond court hearing), Thomas's lawyer pushed for his release from jail on electronic monitoring. The attorney argued Thomas posed no risk to the community, seeing as it was a non-violent crime for which he was arrested, and it was his first arrest. The prosecutor objected to the motion, and said the court was dealing with too‚ large an amount of drugs to allow him to be freed. The judge eventually sided with the defense, and Thomas was freed on house arrest. Down in the drab basement of Division VI in Cook County's Jail at 26th and California is a small holding cell where those waiting to be released on electronic monitoring wait. I was not able to get down there the day Thomas Miller was hooked up to the ankle bracelet. But I did get clearance to get into that part of the jail a little later. That's where I met John Barron. It's mid-afternoon at this point in the day, and a few officers sit around waiting for the arrestees who had been assigned to electronic monitoring that day at Central Bond Court to be transported down. John is one of maybe a dozen who make the cut for EM. He was arrested for possessing a small amount of drugs. But bond court can be such a rushed process sometimes, that some practical details of releasing someone on EM can get overlooked. On this day, the detail that's overlooked in the courtroom is that John is homeless. He gets pulled out of the line of other arrestees, and sits in a chair off to the side. That's where I talk to him: Bond court 2 John's complaint about being more confined on electronic monitoring than in Cook County jail might seem ironic. But it's one that Thomas Miller soon identifies with. I caught up with him at his grandmother's Bridgeport home a little while after he was released on EM. Thomas met me on the top step of the stoop leading up to the house, but he didn't dare come down any further, for fear of setting off the device tied around his ankle. His younger siblings gave him a hard time for not being able to go out to the yard. iguana Inside his house, Thomas told me more about wanting to finish school so he can become a wildlife officer. And I quickly learn how serious he is about animals. Besides a pet dog, I find in his basement several tanks: one for his pet iguana, some various kinds of fish, a turtle, and some hamsters, which he says belong to his younger sister. Back in the courtroom, Thomas's case got delayed several times. After a number of months, Thomas learned the fate of his co-arrestee, Arturo, outside the courtroom. It turns out Arturo made a plea deal: three years in prison plus boot camp. Prosecutors offered Thomas's attorney the same deal. His attorneys reject it. Eventually, in November, Thomas's attorneys got the arresting officer on the stand. After a line of questioning about the circumstances under which Thomas was arrested, the lawyers found some inconsistencies in his testimony and what was written in the police report. Judge Doody ended up throwing the case out for a lack of evidence, and Thomas was free to go home -- without an ankle bracelet. Later that afternoon, I talked with Thomas at his grandmother's house about his bond court experience, and his time on electronic monitoring. Bond court 3 thomas miller 2
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