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State House

South Carolina Attorney General, Top Cop Push Bond Reform Bill

“The current system allows, and often enables, violent criminals to continue committing violent crimes.”

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South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson and chief Mark Keel of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) have not always seen eye-to-eye on things … but the two have joined forces on an issue central to public safety in the Palmetto State.

On Monday morning, Wilson and Keel submitted a letter to legislative leaders urging them to amend and pass a bond reform bill which would mitigate “the danger posed by career criminals who are released on bond time after time.”

“The current system allows, and often enables, violent criminals to continue committing violent crimes instead of preventing them,” Wilson and Keel wrote in their letter (.pdf). “Further, it jeopardizes current victims, future victims, and the community at large.”

Wilson and Keel specifically noted flaws in the state’s electronic monitoring system, decrying a “lack of standards” which poses a “safety risk for victims and the community and prevents accountability for those who fail to report violations.”

Are they correct? Absolutely. Unfortunately, “Republicans” in the S.C. General Assembly were actually moving in the opposite direction on this issue … until this news outlet called them out for it.

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Keel and Wilson’s letter specifically addressed H. 3532, a piece of legislation which has cleared both chambers of the S.C. General Assembly with overwhelming margins but due to unresolved differences but is now languishing in a conference committee led by a powerful lawyer-legislator.

The state’s top cop and top prosecutor wrote that they strongly supported the following provisions being included in the final version of the legislation …

  • SLED would certify all entities that provide electronic monitoring, including electronic monitoring companies, law enforcement agencies, and bonding companies that provide electronic monitoring;
  • Electronic monitoring agencies would be required to provide law enforcement and prosecuting agencies with real-time monitoring and notice of violations; 
  • An up-to-date list of certified monitoring companies would be kept publicly available and both bonding companies and courts would be required to use only these companies; 
  • The companies would be required to provide a report of who they are monitoring to clerks of court as bonding companies do; 
  • Courts would be allowed to order a specific monitoring company when it is deemed prudent or necessary; 
  • If necessary, allow defendants to pay the monitoring company or clerk and provide proof of payment to the bondsman .

“Enacting the above requirements would play a large role in stopping preventable tragedies and make South Carolina safer and more just for everyone,” the public safety leaders concluded.

(Click to View)

SLED chief Mark Keel. (Dylan Nolan/ FITSNews)

Excessive judicial leniency as it relates to bonds (and sentencing) has been a growing problem in the Palmetto State … one with increasingly fatal consequences.

“The longer political leaders stall, the worse this problem is going to become,” I noted in a post back in March.

Wilson recognized this sense of urgency in a statement issued by his office on Monday.

“We desperately need bond reform passed as soon as possible,” he said. “Our current system allows for repeat offenders to continue a life of criminality and endanger our communities. By strengthening GPS monitoring for defendants out on bond and creating oversight and accountability into the process, South Carolina will be a safer place for everyone.”

Keel concurred – and vowed to continue working with lawmakers on a bill that addresses the problem.

“The criminal justice system only works when every part of the system works together to ensure the safety of South Carolinians,” he said. “Law enforcement has increasingly been tasked with managing the pre-trial release of repeat offenders while court backlogs continue to grow. The current system is not sustainable. The answer is not the pre-trial detention of all offenders but the detention of violent offenders especially repeat violent offenders and those charged with repeat felony firearms offenses.”

“When offenders are released on GPS monitoring the public should expect offenders are actually being monitored and abiding by the conditions of their release,” Keel continued. “I will continue advocating for the passage of bond reform and look forward to working with the General Assembly to get a good bill to the governor to protect the citizens of South Carolina.”

(Click to View)

Rep. Jermaine Johnson, Rep. Leon Stavrinakis and Rep. Todd Rutherford during a House session at the South Carolina statehouse in Columbia, S.C. on May 2, 2023. (Travis Bell/SIDELINE CAROLINA)

While bond reform, sentencing reform and docket reform are critically important in enhancing public safety, none of the new guardrails imposed by lawmakers will amount to anything so long as a handful of powerful lawyer-legislators maintain their corrupt vice grip over the selection of judges in the Palmetto State.

South Carolina is one of only two states in America in which the legislature picks judges. As we have seen in far too many cases, lawyer-legislators reap the rewards of their influence over this process by receiving preferential treatment on behalf of their clients. As this news outlet has consistently noted, the current system has enabled institutional corruption, shredded the rights of victims, empowered violent criminals and materially eroded public safety.

It has also turned the judiciary into little more than a political annex of the legislature.

The flaws of this system were once again on display earlier this year when retiring S.C. circuit court judge Casey Manning authorized the illegitimate, illegal and unconstitutional release from prison of convicted killer/ gang leader Jeroid J. Price with more than a decade-and-a-half remaining on his “mandatory minimum” sentence for murder.

Price remains at large nearly three months after Manning negotiated his illegal release with S.C. House minority leader Todd Rutherford. Astoundingly, one “Republican” lawyer-legislator – representative Gil Gatchresponded to the state supreme court’s narrow rebuke of Manning’s decision by claiming “the system works.”

I’m sorry, representative but no … no it doesn’t.

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THE LETTER …

(Via: S.C. Attorney General)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.

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