Let me decode the Orwellian trope of “criminal justice reform” for you. It means keeping more violent criminals on the streets so they can further intimidate witnesses and guarantee even fewer convictions and prison sentences. Now, every story you read about crime will make sense.
When New York Democrats passed a law automatically releasing most criminals pending their trials while also giving them access to information about witnesses and victims, they knew exactly what they were doing. Witness intimidation is not a bug of “bail reform” and jailbreak policies; it is a feature designed to ensure that fewer people testify at trial, thereby reducing the likelihood of a conviction that will result in prison time. A recent Georgia case is a perfect example.
While Georgia hasn’t gone as far as New York in prison and jail release policies, many judges throughout the country are releasing extremely dangerous criminals on little or no bond. It’s certainly the latest fad throughout the Peach State. In 2017, Paul Sherwood Lyle Jr., 35, was arrested in Clayton County on charges of child molestation and sexual battery against a child under age 16. Yet he was released on just $75,000 bond, which usually means just 10 percent of it must be paid in cash.
Just those charges alone should have warranted a higher bail, but like most criminals, this was not his first time in trouble with the law. According to Georgia court records, Lyle racked up several dozen criminal charges over the past two decades, including burglary, theft, criminal trespassing, assault, making terrorist threats, and multiple hit-and-run accidents. He was even arrested for a hit-and-run incident earlier this year while out on bond. But the trend in criminal justice to keep repeat offenders out of jail, even when they offend while out on bond or parole, is evidently strong in this allegedly red state.
Fast-forward to last Wednesday. Lyle was arrested by Clayton County sheriff’s deputies for trying to intimidate the victim in the original child molestation case. According to the sheriff’s office, “While out on bond, Lyle made contact with another minor, a 15-year-old, and convinced the minor to go to the home of the victim of the previous incident and attack them in an attempt to intimidate the witness.” After the county DA issued a warrant for his arrest for violation of a protective order, the sheriff’s fugitive squad apprehended Lyle “while standing at an elementary school bus stop with no justifiable reason for being there.” According to the public notice from the department, “It is to be noted that the subject was found to have a bottle of pink fingernail polish in his pocket. We can only speculate as to why.”
Lyle is now charged with aggravated stalking and influencing witness. Thank God in Georgia there is still modicum of common sense left, and he was held without bond. Had this taken place in New York, he would have been released again. In fact, in New York, the prosecution has to turn over all sorts of information on witnesses and victims to the defendants. So now that they are all out on the streets, they will have all the tools they need to ensure that no conviction is secured. This is the future of criminal justice in America now that the concept of pretrial holding is gradually being abolished. Not only will it pose a massive public safety concern, it will ensure that few convictions are made because nobody will want to testify. Prosecutors tell me that the biggest impediment to landing a conviction is the fear of victims and witnesses to come forward, which is why DAs have to arrange plea deals more often than not.
There is a very important lesson here that cuts to the core of the criminal justice debate in America and demonstrates why we actually have an under-conviction and under-sentencing problem. The governing elites have made it clear that they will not spend another penny on enforcement and convictions. As the population grows and they throw endless funding at public education or other poplar services to keep up with the growth, a decision has been made in most states to stop building more prisons and jails and not to add funding to the court system. Doing so conveniently provides them with the talking point that prisons are overcrowded and that trials are backlogged for too long so it’s unfair to hold people in jail either.
Thus, rather than building more prisons to even deal with the repeat violent offenders being released and adding more resources to the county courts so that the backlogs can be cleared, these jurisdictions will ensure that most violent criminals will remain out on the streets indefinitely to commit a dozen other crimes before there is a disposition of the original case. And by the time that trial comes around, the defendant will already have had so many opportunities to intimidate the witnesses and even victims that the case falls apart and the charges are pled down by a mile. This ensures that when the same criminal is inevitably caught for another crime, his rap sheet doesn’t look nearly as bad as it should, and he is treated accordingly, perhaps getting just one year in prison instead of 10.
This is the true problem with our system, and this is what really needs reform. But instead of fixing the problem, both parties in most states are seeking to pour gasoline on the fire. The time has come to reform the “reformers.”
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.