Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following remarks during the House Judiciary Committee’s markup of the Citizens’ Right to Know Act of 2017 (H.R. 2152).

Chairman Goodlatte: Today, we consider H.R. 2152, the Citizens Right to Know Act of 2017, offered by the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Poe.

A little over 50 years ago, there were three pre-trial options for defendants accused of a crime.  They were either released on one’s own recognizance (ROR), commercial bail, or remanded to custody.   When considering the options on whether to grant ROR, set a bail amount or remand, the judge considers a number of factors including:

  • The severity of the crime charged;
  • The suspect’s criminal record;
  • The danger posed to the public if the suspect is released; and
  • The suspect’s ties to family, community and employment.

Commercial bail ensures the appearance of the defendant in court at no cost to the taxpayer.

The situation for defendants began to change in the 1960s.  The first U.S. pretrial services program, the Manhattan Bail Project, was established in 1961.  The Manhattan Bail Project was intended to help defendants who were financially unable to post the surety bond conditions set in New York City.   The program interviewed defendants to gather information on community ties to determine a defendant’s likelihood of appearing in court.  Based on these interviews, low-risk individuals were recommended for release on their own recognizance, or the defendants’ promise to appear without financial obligation.

Unfortunately, over the last four decades, pre-trial release programs have expanded well beyond their original scope and purpose.  Today there are over 300 pre-trial release programs nationwide, whose participants routinely include violent and repeat offenders, many of whom are able post a commercial bond and have done so in the past.  In many instances, the federal government has become a major source of funding for pre-trial release programs.

When the Bureau of Justice Statistics examined the pretrial release phase of the criminal justice process using data collected from a representative sample of felony cases filed in the 75 largest U.S. counties, they found that “compared to release on recognizance, defendants on financial release were more likely to make all scheduled court appearances.  Defendants released on an unsecured bond or as part of an emergency release were most likely to have a bench warrant issued because they failed to appear in court.”

H.R. 2152 says if a jurisdiction receives grant money from the Department of Justice to operate a pretrial release program with federal dollars, that jurisdiction needs to report to the Attorney General certain information concerning the defendants.  The bill requires the jurisdiction to submit the criminal histories of the defendants and the number of times the defendant has failed to appear as ordered by the court.  It also requires the Attorney General to make public the information the Department of Justice receives.  In my mind, that isn’t a whole lot to ask these jurisdictions.

In fact, this bill is beneficial, because citizens have the right to know what types of defendants are being released prior to their trial.  If defendants have a long history of criminal behavior or frequent failure to appear in court, the community should know that.  Likewise, residents should be aware if their community is running a successful pretrial services program.  Simply put, no matter what side of the bail or no-bail debate you find yourself on, you should support this bill.  Information like this in the hands of the public is never a bad thing.  It will also be helpful to those of us who make policy on these matters.

I want to thank Mr. Poe for introducing this legislation and I will be offering an amendment in the nature of a substitute that I urge my colleagues to support.

For more on today’s markup, click here.