Now-deleted NOPD post highlights frustration with low bonds being set in Orleans Parish courts

Published: Jan. 16, 2023 at 10:40 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A social media post by the New Orleans Police Department’s Third District -- which since has been deleted -- highlights what some analysts said is a pattern of low bonds being set in Orleans Parish Magistrate court, leading to suspects being released quickly after arrest.

The post shared that three suspects, who had been arrested by officers last week for various weapons and stolen property charges, all were released on bonds ranging from $3,500 to $5,000 to $18,500. Criminal defendants usually must produce just 10 percent of a bond amount when working with a bail bonds company for a surety bond.

Jamall Lambert, 18, was booked with the illegal carrying of a firearm, resisting an officer and theft. Magistrate commissioner Jay Daniels set Lambert’s bond at just $3,500.

“If there’s just one weak link in the system, the entire system collapses,” said Fox 8 political analyst Dr. Robert Collins, a public policy professor at Dillard University. “(NOPD is) trying to make the public aware that it’s really not their fault if a low bond amount gets set. They don’t have any control over that. The judges control that.”

A spokesperson for NOPD said the post was made in error, and that the department has nothing to add because the setting of bonds is not in their purview.

The responsibility for assigning bond amounts falls on the magistrate court, which in New Orleans is run by elected Magistrate Judge Juana Lombard and four court-appointed commissioners: attorneys Jonathan Friedman, Joyce Sallah, Peter Hamilton III and Daniels.

“Magistrate commissioners are obviously lawyers. Hopefully, but not always, some sort of a criminal (law) background in their past. But many of them don’t have that,” said Fox 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti. “They have a civil practice, or this is all they do. They come (to court) one night a week, usually, and one weekend a month. They handle the magistrate docket.”

Raspanti said that while state law lists several factors judges should consider when setting a bond, the decision is ultimately up to their discretion.

“It’s up to the prosecutor to put up whatever he wants to put up as evidence, to show this person deserves a higher bond, and vice versa for the defense,” he said.

Typically, if a defendant obtains a surety bond from a bail bondsman, they only have to post 10-12 percent of the bail amount, meaning Lambert only had to pay $350 to walk free pending his next court appearance.

State law requires judges and commissioners to consider 10 factors before determining a...
State law requires judges and commissioners to consider 10 factors before determining a criminal defendant's bail amount.(WVUE-Fox 8)

The office of Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williamsissued a statement Tuesday that said, “By law, judges set bonds, not the DA’s office. By law, our role is to vigorously pursue justice in cases, hold those that break the law accountable, and fight for victims and families.

“We stand with the NOPD and share that same frustration when the courts set bonds too low, and defendants re-offend. My office argued for higher bond amounts; unfortunately, the court disagreed.”

Four years ago, while still a member of New Orleans’ City Council, Williams said “the city deserves new policies,” when predecessor Leon Cannizzaro was arguing against the lowering of bond amounts.

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