Presentation: Honorable Michael O’Foghludha

Introduced by Nancy Gordon, Superior Court judge and fellow Rotarian Mike O’Foghludha spoke on the topic of pretrial detention and bail.  This is a topic that has generated considerable discussion nationally and figured prominently in the election for district attorney in Durham last year.  In her introduction, Nancy noted that Mike is an undergraduate alumnus of Duke and a law graduate of UNC.  She also pointed out his law practice and service as a defense lawyer prior to his election to the Superior Court in 2010 was valuable experience.  She noted that Mike is highly respected in the community for his temperament, kindness and compassion. 

 Contrary to popular opinion, Mike pointed out that the crime rate has been falling since the 1980s. defendants have been spending more time in pretrial detention and receiving longer sentences.  This is not only costly but, according to studies, has not been effective in reducing recidivism.  In the U.S. something like $14 billion is spent annually on detention and incarceration.  Durham spends $126 per day per detainee or prisoner. 

 Although public safety is of utmost importance, the practice of requiring secured bonds even for minor offenses discriminates against the poor.  One problem is that magistrates typically tend to set the highest bail for the scheduled charge.  Unable to post bond, some defendants languish in pretrial detention for weeks or months awaiting trial.  This can have disastrous consequences for individuals and families.  Forbes magazine reckons that seventy-five to eighty percent of all American households live from paycheck to paycheck and that individuals detained for more than three days are at significantly higher risk of losing jobs or facing eviction. 

 Durham judges, along with those of Mecklenburg and Watauga counties, have created flow charts to evaluate the risk of flight or risk of injury to the community that defendants pose in determining bail.  Interestingly, Mike observed that roughly ninety-eight percent of defendants show up for their trials. 

 We were also treated to a brief lesson on the Anglo-Saxon origins of the word “bail” whose purpose was to settle disputes peaceably and to ensure compensation to victims if defendants fled. 

 Submitted by Allen Cronenberg 

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