Outrage ran high in 2004 when a Florida ex-con snatched Carlie Brucia, 11, off the street, then raped and murdered her, says the St. Petersburg Times. That her killer was on the street after recently violating probation seemed to confirm a widespread notion that courts and judges go easy on criminals. So the legislature passed the “Anti-Murder Act” to lengthen prison sentences and deny bail to certain felons who violate probation. Like all broad-swath legislation, it exacted a cost. Minor probation violations that judges once handled on the spot can now take weeks to wend through clogged court systems.
Worse, critics say the no-bail rule can create more crime than it prevents. Probation violators waiting weeks in jail for a hearing end up losing jobs and apartments, even if a judge eventually rules that their infraction was minor and they are no danger to society. “They get out with no money, no job and no place to stay,” says Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger. “It’s not conducive to staying out of trouble.” The no-bail rule doesn’t affect dangerous probationers who commit serious new crimes, because judges never granted them bail in the first place. They sit in jail until their trial, then go to prison – just like always. Instead, the law mainly affects people who aren’t dangerous, as well as taxpayers who pay to keep them in jail pending a hearing. “This is a knee-jerk reaction that is casting a net too wide,” Dillinger says. “It is slowing the criminal justice system down without adding any extra protection for the safety of the public.”