Neil's News

Bailing Out

23 December 2010

Short version of the story:

  1. Cop catches 15 year old kid smoking at a bus stop in LA.
  2. Cop beats up kid, slams his head into the bus and uses pepper spray.
  3. More cops arrive. Kid is released without charge.
  4. During the incident, several bystanders start recording videos of what the cop is doing.
  5. Cops pick Jeremy Marks, a 17 year old student, and arrest him at gunpoint (destroying the evidence on his phone in the process).
  6. Since photographing police is still legal in California, they charge him instead with "attempted lynching of a police officer".
  7. The prosecutor makes an offer: plead guilty and he'll only serve seven years. He declines.
  8. Jeremy is thrown in jail, bail is set at an extortionate amount his family can't afford.
  9. He sits in jail for seven months awaiting trial.
  10. I hear about the case on Reddit and provide the collateral to get Jeremy out of jail and back to his family for christmas.

Long version of the story:

The whole experience of what happens pre-trial was a real eye-opener. One of the things which I learned was that if one uses a bail bondsman in the US they require a 10% payment which they keep even if you do show up for court. That makes getting out of jail phenomenally expensive.

The alternative is to raise enough cash to pay the entire bail, which will then be returned after the trial. The amount of work it takes to liquefy investments and raise that sort of cash is ridiculous. If one were inside jail and limited to a few phone calls, it would likely be an impossible task.

What would you do if you unexpectedly ended up in an American jail with one phone call? Are you going to pick a lawyer at random from the yellow pages (assuming those pages still exist in the jail's copy)? Do you have family who will take charge of the situation? In my case I'm fortunate: I could just phone the consulate for one of Her Majesty's governments. Those pages are likely to still exist in the jail's phone book.

On a related subject, I photographed this sign in Muir Woods last summer. It's nice to know where the constitution does and does not apply in this country.

[First Amendment Area]

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