The Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to give a favorable report to a bill that would allow judges to deny bond to violent criminals. House Bill 131 is a proposed constitutional amendment. HB130 is its accompanying enabling legislation. Both are sponsored by state Rep. Chip Brown, R-Hollister Island.
The legislation is named for Aniah Blanchard, a 19-year-old Alabama college student who was kidnapped and murdered in October 2019. The perpetrator, Ibraheed Yazeed, had already been charged with kidnapping and attempted murder and was out on bond at the time that he kidnapped Aniah at a gas station in the Auburn area.
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 explained that his bill allows a prosecutor to ask the judge for a hearing to deny bail. The judge at his discretion can deny the hearing. If the hearing is granted then the district attorney can present evidence that the defendant is: a danger to the community, a danger to himself or is a flight risk.
The judge can then weigh the evidence and make the determination on whether to deny bail or not.
“This is not a Republican or a Democrat issue, This is a public safety issue,” Brown said.
“Prosecutors have asked for this, judges has asked for this, and law enforcement wants it,” Brown said of his bill.
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.”
Brown explained that this would only be applicable in cases where the defendant is charged with a class A felony.
The House of Representatives has passed this for three years in a row. It has never gotten out of the Senate though. The legislation is being carried in the Senate by Sen. David Sessions, R-Mobile.
Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said: “I have a problem with cash bail already. It discriminates against poor people.”
Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, said that this bill comes with, “unintended consequences.”
Elijah Blanchard, the father of Aniah, said: “I feel that as a parent this would prevent other parents from going through what we have gone through.”
“This bill would be very instrumental in keeping these criminals locked up,” Blanchard said. “It would give the judges the discretion to deny bail to dangerous criminals. This young many was out there just preying on young women.”
“The judges would have the discretion to say he is too dangerous to be out,” Blanchard said. “He has raped somebody. He has been a criminal since he was 15 years old and he was still out. He preyed on my daughter and he killed my daughter.”
“If this man had been locked up, Aniah would be alive today,” Blanchard added at the public hearing. “If you rape someone the judge should have the discretion to say that you won’t have bond.”
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, said: “I represent Auburn and I drive by that gas station every day on my way to work. I feel terrible that this happened to your daughter while she was a resident of my district.”
Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, told Blanchard: “I feel for you. I have three daughters myself.”
Ginny Carroll with the Alabama School of Law and the Alabama Law Institute spoke in opposition to the bill.
“It is important that we get the bill right,” Carroll said. “This constitutional amendment represents a sea change in what has long been a right to bail.”
“Please think carefully before you amend the constitution,” Carroll concluded.
The committee voted 9 to 0 to give both of the bills a favorable report.