Solicitor, bondsman say PR bonds issued too often at J. Reuben Long

Solicitor, bondsman say PR bonds issued too often at J. Reuben Long

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - People who have been charged with all sorts of crimes get out of J. Reuben Long on bond daily, but a local bail bondsman said he's not always the one processing those anymore because they're getting out without paying.

"Used to be when court was held, you know there's court at 9 o'clock and at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, an hour after that the phones would be ringing with people who had just been to court. Now, nothing," said Ware Kimmell, a bail bondsman with Owens Bonding.

For a surety bond, a person pays a bail bondsman a portion of the assigned bond. However, Kimmell said judges started granting personal recognizance, or PR bonds more frequently starting about five years ago when the jail was overcrowded. For a PR bond, the person can sign a promise to return to court without actually posting funds.

Kimmell said he recalls recent bond hearings that processed 26 people and 23 of them got PR bonds.

He said another issue is the market is saturated with bail bondsmen now, so he has more competition than in the past.

However, he said public safety is at risk with PR bonds.

"Someone who is shoplifting regularly, before, they knew that at some point they're going to have to end up coming out of their pocket to go to jail," he said. "Now they can just keep doing it because there's no consequence to that action," Kimmell said.

15th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said it's often difficult to bring people to trial when they continue getting arrested.

"It's not atypical of a lot of the cases where you can't even get one of them tried before someone gets charged with three or four other charges," Richardson said.

Michael Christian Lee, who is accused of burglaries around Murrells Inlet, was jailed four times between June and his most recent arrest in September. He got out multiple times on PR bonds, Richardson said.

A woman who wishes to remain anonymous, said she was one of his victims. She said she walked into her kitchen while he was burglarizing her home.

"Every time I close my eyes I see his face," she said. "I walk into my front door into my house and it's like it replays. I'm extremely emotionally traumatized."

Lee was denied bond September 17 for various charges, including first degree burglary. The woman said she doesn't understand why he was out in the first place based on his arrest record.

"Why did they allow him out on bond then 72 hours after getting out, he's committing crimes again," she said.

Horry County's Associate Chief Magistrate, Judge Aaron Butler, said a statute requires everyone to be entitled to a personal recognizance bond unless they are a danger to society or a flight risk. It's up to the judge to determine if those factors have been met.

The sheriff's office has now taken over responsibility for making sure the judges have information, such as criminal history, readily available to them to make that decision, which Richardson said he does think could help the issue.

It's also on the sheriff's office to track down people who don't come to court after signing a PR bond.

"It's taxpayer money that's going to chase them down," Richardson said. "On a surety bond, even if it's $5-$10,000, the bondsman goes out and brings them back."

Kimmell said he has gone across the country to find people who didn't come to court after posting bond with him.

"If the person flees out of state, they can't go after them. I can," he said.

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