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New criminal rule could cause violent criminals to be released from jail

It's called Criminal Rule 26. The purpose is to reinforce the assumption that those who have been arrested are innocent until proven guilty. But there are concerns that the rule is causing the courts to release potentially violent criminals back into the public.

ABC57 news spoke to St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter about the rule. When asked if he thought potentially violent criminals were released from jail because of the rule, he responded with a one word answer, "Yes."

The rule took effect in St. Joe and 10 other counties in 2016. It mandates that people be released from jail without a bond unless they are a flight risk or a danger to the community. There's a test called the IRAS, a set of questions, to assess if someone is a flight risk.

"Asking about their employment history, where they live, whether they are homeless or not, their criminal history, things like that." Cotter said.

If someone is considered a flight risk or if there is a safety concern, the prosecution can request the accused be held until a bail hearing. Bail hearings are held the next business day.

However, determining if releasing someone is a danger to the community is all on the Prosecutor's Office.

"That, I think, is where we're having some difficulty." Cotter said.

And, St. Joe County has been coming up with the process a lot on its own. The Indiana Supreme Court chose St. Joe and 10 other counties to be pilot counties. Cotter says it was a complete surprise.

"We were unaware that we were going to be chosen as a pilot county before this came out." He said.

One reason for the rule is to prevent discrimination against the poor. Before the rule took effect, bond would be set based on the level of the crime.

"If you're rich you get out. If you're poor, you don't. That's not fair to a person who is poor." Cotter said. "But weighing safety concerns and the rights (of the accused) is difficult. The courts care, I'm not blaming them."

The rule is also aimed at getting the state in line with the state constitution. According to Indiana's constitution, a person can only be held without bond if they're accused of murder or treason. So, if someone is accused of any other crime, they have to be given the option of bail.

That's what happened with 18-year-old Jermaine Newsome. He is accused of shooting a man during a robbery in March. Even though the prosecution described him a a flight risk because of the violent crime and a previous offense where he cut off his electronic monitoring device, he was given a $5,000 bond. Nine days after he bailed out of jail, police arrested him in connection to another shooting.

"Ethically, I can't talk about whether or not the court should have done one thing or another. I can just tell you that we'll do our best to give the court as much information as we can so it can make a decision to keep our community safe." Cotter said when responding to a question about if he believed Newsome should have been released.

Cotter says the rule does now allow his office to ask for higher bond amounts if they can prove someone is a flight risk or danger to the community. Newsome's new bond is $250,000.

Rule 26 takes effect statewide in 2020.

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