Video Bond Hearings

Cook County Ends Unconstitutional TV Bond Hearings

Facing a Roderick MacArthur Justice Center suit, Chief Judge of the Circuit Court Timothy Evans has ended Cook County's controversial televised bond hearings, installing a new system where hearings for all persons charged with felony offenses are now conducted in person.

In 1999, Cook County consolidated all felony bond hearings, and arrestees appeared before a judge through a closed-circuit television feed. The Roderick MacArthur Justice Center has long criticized the video hearings, which averaged only 30-seconds in length and denied defendants an opportunity to appear in person before a judge. In 2006, the Center filed a class action lawsuit alleging that bond hearings under the old practice violated due process.

"For nearly a decade, defendants have been denied their right to appear face-to-face before a judge who will decide their legal fate," said Locke Bowman, Legal Director of the MacArthur Justice Center. "This arbitrary, assembly-line system of justice violated defendants' constitutional rights, and we are pleased Judge Evans has taken a positive step to improve the quality of the bond hearing process."

Following Evans' decision, each defendant on the bond call appears in-person in the courtroom with his Public Defender at his side. Observers of the new system have noted that I-bonds - amount owed if a defendant fails to appear in court, but requires no payment in order to be let out of jail - are now issued more frequently and that the judges recommend a percentage of the defendants for release on pre-trial electronic monitoring.

Judge Evans' decision came in the face of mounting evidence that video bond hearings produced harsh results. A study conducted by Northwestern University School of Law Professor Shari Diamond found with the introduction of video bond hearings in 1999, average bail amounts increased by an astonishing 65%. Steep increases in bail amounts are a contributing factor to the overcrowding that plagues Cook County Jail, and experts argue that a fairer bond system coupled with increased use of electronic monitoring will ease the capacity shortage at the jail.

While the elimination of video is significant, problems continue to linger at bond court. Public defenders who represent defendants on the bond call continue to labor with inadequate resources and to lack physical space and time to interview their clients. As a consequence, Public Defenders are forced to appear at bond hearings without adequate preparation.

Updated - 01/15/2009

MacArthur Justice Center Files Lawsuit to Abolish Video Bond Hearings

MacArthur Justice Center attorney Locke Bowman filed a putative class action lawsuit seeking to eliminate Cook County's "video bond court." The suit contends that the procedure deprives arrestees the rights to due process and effective assistance counsel and is seeking an injunction from a federal court to stop the practice of conducting bond hearings through video.

Since 1999, Cook County consolidated all felony bond hearings. Arrestees now appear before a judge through a closed-circuit television feed. Each court day, 100-150 bond applicants, many represented by an assistant public defender, attend their court hearing via this system. Applicants are held in holding cells and individual hearings last less than 30 seconds.

Because of physical separation and inability to talk to a public defender before the hearing, bond applicants think they have no right to address the court.

"It's designed for the convenience of judges, sheriffs, and lawyers but to the detriment of the folks whose lives are being affected," says Locke Bowman legal director of the MacArthur Justice Center.

The case goes back to court for a status hearing on Jan. 9, 2007.

Update - 11/17/2006