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Some inmates who make bail held for deportation

September 19, 2000

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- Circuit judges in Benton County say they want to sit down with bail bondsmen and law enforcement to work out a system that will stop the practice of some suspects posting bond only to be deported.

Circuit Court Judge Tom Keith on Monday heard from public defenders and prosecutors, who said some bondsmen are posting bail for suspected illegal immigrants. The defendant pays a bondsman for his release from jail pending trial. But the defendant remains behind bars because the Immigration and Naturalization Service has a detainer in place to pursue deportation, the officials told Keith.

"I'm not going to require people to pay out to a bondsman when there's no hope they're going to be released from jail," Keith said.

Bondsmen typically require a defendant pay 10 percent of his bail in order to be released from jail. If the defendant fails to appear in court, the bondsman usually is called to forfeit the entire amount of the bond. Otherwise he keeps the 10 percent collected from the defendant.

Bondsmen can be hurt and so can a defendant facing deportation.

The bondsman can be forced to forfeit the bond and a suspect facing deportation can lose the money he's given the bondsman.

"We want to get everyone together and work out a system so that individuals aren't being taken advantage of by the system and, at the same time, bondsmen aren't being penalized," Keith said.

Benton County authorities said some bail bondsmen have promised defendants that they would be freed when a federal order is in place to hold them for federal immigration officials who are seeking deportation.

Deputy Prosecutor Bob Balfe said bondsmen are responsible for knowing whether a detainer has been placed on a suspect.

Balfe said his office is disputing claims by one bondsman who's resisting forfeiting bail for a defendant who was deported by immigration officials. The bondsman claims he didn't know deportation proceedings were pending against the defendant, Balfe said.

Benton County Sheriff Andy Lee said jail staff notify defendants of detainers and holds.

Special Agent Rick Gabbard of the INS in Fort Smith said the agency notifies jail staff as soon as it places a detainer on a defendant.

Keith and Circuit Judge David Clinger called last week for a meeting by bondsmen and various officials to work out a better way of communicating so bondsmen and the various agencies all know the status of inmates.