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Chip Brown introduces bill to allow judge to deny bail to violent offenders

Symbol of law and justice in the empty courtroom, law and justice concept.

Wednesday, State Representative Chip Brown (R – Mobile) and Angela Harris, the mother of Auburn murder victim Aniah Blanchard, were in Montgomery urging legislators to support a proposed Alabama Constitutional amendment that allows prosecutors and judges broader discretion in requesting and denying bail to those accused of committing violent crimes.

Section 16 of the 1901 Constitution of Alabama currently requires that “all persons shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, except for capital offenses, when the proof is evident or the presumption great; and that excessive bail shall not in any case be required.”

Brown’s bill allows bail to be denied to those who place the public at risk with their release, and it amends the Constitution to read:

”If no conditions of release can reasonably protect the community from risk of physical harm to the accused, the public, or both, ensure the presence of the accused at trial, or ensure the integrity of the judicial process, the accused may be detained without bail. Excessive bail shall not in any case be imposed or required.”

Ibraheed Yazeed is currently being held on capital murder charges for the November slaying of 19-year-old college student Aniah Blanchard. At the time of Blanchard’s murder, Yazeed was out on bond for several violent offenses including kidnapping and attempted murder. Yazeed was awarded bail despite more than a dozen priors, which included drug and robbery arrests.

Brown said that his bill would be filed on the first day of the 2020 legislative session, which begins on February 4.

“I have support from both sides of that aisle,” Brown said. This is not a Republican or a Democrat issue, “This is a public safety issue.”

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Brown introduced similar legislation in 2019. It passed the Alabama House of Representatives 92 to 3; but was never acted upon by the State Senate.

“It will be called Anaih’s law,” Brown said. I have spoken with the District Attorneys Association, the Sheriffs Association, and the Police Chiefs Association, District Attorneys Association and they are all supportive of the bill.

“This is a must. We have to have this law,” said Ms. Harris, Anaih’s mother. “We have to do something.”

“I know that Anaih is looking down and she is very proud of the people fighting for this,” Harris added.

Brown said that Senator David Sessions (R) will also be sponsoring the same version of this bill in the Senate. “We are coming at it from both directions.”

The Alabama Political Reporter asked: A few years ago the legislature passed sentencing reform where parole violators were sent to jail for a few days instead of returning to prison. That helped prison overcrowding some, but resulted in massive overcrowding in county jails. Are you concerned that this will adversely impact the 67 county jails in the state?

“I am not I have spoken with several Sheriffs and they are supportive of this law.” Brown said. “This will be done on a cases by case base. It is important that it does not mandate that a judge denies bail. It gives judges another tool. It takes the worst of the worst off the streets. Concerning jail overcrowding, I am not concerned with that at all.”

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“If we would have passed it last year it would have been on the ballot for the primary on March third,” Brown said. “If we pass it in this session it will be on the November ballot for 2020.”

Brown said that currently a defendant can be denied bail if they are accused of capital murder or because he violated the provisions of his bond. “This gives district attorneys the ability to say that this person is going to be a violent threat to the community.”

Reporters asked Harris how she felt when she learned that Yazeed was out on bond for attempted murder and kidnapping

“Anger. Anger, disbelief really that that could have happened,” Harris said. “I will talk to anybody to pass this. This is my fight.”

The Alabama Media Group’s Mike Cason asked Brown if he was concerned that this would be challenged in federal court under the right to bail under the eighth amendment of the U.S. Constitution?

“No, the federal courts deny bail frequently for these same reasons,” Brown said. “I have had constitutional scholars look at it. I am extremely confident that it would survive any eighth amendment challenge.”

The 2020 legislative session begins on February 4.

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Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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