This past weekend, the Anti-Defamation League met with a number of prominent Cuyahoga County legal figures on ways to improve our Ohio criminal justice system. Attorney Ian Friedman was one top attorney consulted and was a vocal champion of bail reform and the rights of the accused.
As Cleveland.com reports, the Anti-Defamation league met with Cuyahoga County First Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Duane Deskins, Cuyahoga County Law Director Robert Triozzi, and Attorney Friedman over concerns about the criminal justice system—particularly about the use of bonds on non-violent suspects. Bail reform has been a prominent topic nationwide and experts and advocates are looking at places like Cuyahoga County where jail populations can be reduced and poor and minority communities need more agency within the court system.
One of the biggest hurdles in bail reform, according to Attorney Friedman, is a public misconception of how bail works and why it's actually used in our criminal justice system. "Any time you are bringing reform to a system, you have to recognize a couple things. General citizens, they don't care," he told the Anti-Defamation League. "The reason they don't care mostly is because they don't understand the system. The most important thing I think is education, education, education."
For instance, most people believe that when someone is arrested in held and jail, they are guilty of their charges. There is seldom consideration to the fact that many accused individuals cannot afford to pay their bond and that, at any one time, there are countless innocent individuals languishing in jails, waiting for their trial, merely because they can't pay.
"The mere basics of presumptions of innocence are so important, because if you believe the people in jail probably did something wrong," Friedman said, "then you want them in there."
Washington D.C. has been operating on a bail system that only applies to violent or repeat suspects that pose a risk to the community. Cuyahoga County could consider a similar system, but as Attorney Friedman points out, not everyone is comfortable with that kind of policy. In particular, judges are hesitant to support reform that is seen as lenient and can make the public uncomfortable.
"Every judge is terrified to let people out, because God forbid they do something and the paper comes back and says 'this judge let them out on a personal bond or low bond,'" Attorney Friedman said. "They're worried about the elections. Period."
Wrongful Admissions of Guilt
Perhaps most troubling about our current incarceration crisis is that the possibility of jail can be frightening enough to make innocent defendants agree to plea deals-- legally admitting their guilt-- just to minimize their time behind bars. More than that, those defendants who do choose to remain in jail often can't put their best foot forward when they finally face the judge: they cannot work, attend drug or mental health treatment, take care of their family, or continue to go to school while they wait for their day in court.
Attorney Friedman called his discussion with the Anti-Defamation League "a high honor" and thanks the organization for their work and dedication to further the civil rights causes not just in Cleveland, but all over the country.
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