The Idaho Senate Judiciary Committee agreed today to introduce legislation to amend the Idaho Constitution to allow defendants accused of “dangerous crimes” to be held without bail before they go to trial, but senators on the committee had lots of questions about the proposal, which comes from the state Criminal Justice Commission. “Let the phone calls and emails begin,” said Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, the committee vice-chair, after the panel’s vote.
Deputy Attorney General Paul Panther, speaking as a member of the governor’s Criminal Justice Commission, said, “This is an evidence-based, risk-based way to protect public safety.”
He said, “The release of such a person should not depend on the financial assets of the defendant – it should depend on public safety. This is not about releasing arrestees without bail. We actually discussed a provision that would allow for that in our subcommittee – that was rejected by the Criminal Justice Commission.”
Idaho instead would go the opposite route – not releasing certain arrestees at all, if they’re deemed to be a risk. Under the proposed constitutional amendment, which would require two-thirds approval from each house of the Legislature plus a majority vote of the electorate to take effect, the Legislature would have to define what it considers to be “dangerous crimes” for the provision to take effect.
“I’m very skeptical,” said Sen. Tony Potts, R-Idaho Falls. “I would like to see some sort of statistics that show a need for this. … To not allow somebody the right to bail I think is a significant, significant thing.”
Other senators on the committee expressed concern about the potential fiscal impact, which remains undefined; the need for an Idaho Attorney General’s opinion on the proposal, which Panther said will be provided; the impact on Idaho’s bail bond businesses; and the uncertainty of leaving the definition up to lawmakers.
Idaho Public TV producer Seth Ogilvie reported on the issues behind the proposal in a segment on Idaho Reports; you can see it online here.