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Judge sets $4 billion bail; sends message against astronomical bonds

Bond, or bail as it's commonly referred to, is a mechanism in the U.S. criminal justice system that allows defendants to place a so-called deposit with the court in exchange for release from jail until their trial date or court appearance.

Either money or tangible property can be utilized as collateral. It's returned if the defendant appears for court or trial, but is forfeited if the defendant "skips bail" and fleas the country or doesn't come back.

Bail laws, though, vary from state to state. In certain circumstances, judges are allowed to use their discretion and determine when and how much bail to grant a defendant.

But some argue that many judges have gone too far, often setting enormous bond amounts for low level offenders with minimal flight risks and forcing them to unnecessarily sit in jail for months waiting for their trial.

In an effort to showcase a broken judicial system, one Justice of the Peace took an idiosyncratic, drastic approach to drive home the ridiculousness of the practice.

She set a $4 billion bond.

The hearing

A twenty-five year old man recently appeared before Bell County, Texas, Justice of the Peace Claudia Brown. He was facing first-degree murder charges after turning himself in a week before the court appearance.

She aimed to set a $100,000 bond. But, after facing pushback from law enforcement officials who wanted a $1 million bail set for the defendant, she simply "changed the 1 to a 4 and added a whole bunch of zeroes," according to a recent report by the Associated Press.

Why? To make a point. She was jaded by a judicial system where everything she says is broken and beaten-including the way bail is handled.

The Associated Press points to one study by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards that backs up her point. Twenty five years ago, the percentage of inmates sitting in jail awaiting trial was 32 percent. Today, that number has jumped to 75 percent.

The perfect time to make a statement

She told the AP that as a new judge elected this past November, she knew she wanted to change the system and thought "this was the perfect time." This 25 year old had turned himself in and they were starting the bail at $1 million? She was going to send a message.

And her efforts seemingly paid off and garnered attention. The $4 billion original bond she set was later reduced to $150,000 by a district court judge. And, because of her actions, it's possible other judges have taken notice-even those in other states.

However, it remains to be seen whether any real reform will come about in the upcoming years regarding enormous bail practices. But the issue is now in the eyes of the public so it's possible.

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