Atlanta councilman says no bond law has led to thousands not appearing in city court

ATLANTA — A Channel 2 investigation has found that some of the defendants who are skipping their appearances in Atlanta city court are charged with crimes as serious as firing weapons, fighting and racing to elude police.

Investigative reporter Richard Belcher found that thousands of defendants are avoiding court every month.

One city councilmember contends the 70% to 80% increase in no-shows at municipal court is a direct result of the city law that effectively banned the requirement for cash bond to get out of jail.

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Mayor Andre Dickens’ office said most of the no-shows are not facing violent felonies, rather traffic and quality of life charges, but the alleged behavior of some is not so benign.

It is now common for Atlanta police, state troopers in Atlanta and other law enforcement to have to chase a suspect sometimes at speeds well above a hundred miles an hour.

Records show that defendants like these are among those who are stopped, ticketed, released without posting bond and then do not bother to show up in city court.

It is the same for some of the defendants accused of street racing or drag racing that is popular and dangerous.

In response to Channel 2′s open records request, city court also released records of firearms violations that are treated as relatively minor city offenses, only to have the defendants leave jail without posting bond and not show up for court.

“These just aren’t, you know, spitting on the sidewalk kinds of cases. These are very serious, very dangerous charges. Even though they are at the municipal level, they’re still dangerous, and they still affect the public,” city councilman Michael Julian Bond said.

Bond and every other councilmember voted for the 2018 bail reform law which is popular with progressives because it allows defendants arrested but not yet convicted to get out of jail without paying for a bail bond.

“It is obvious that for the last four years, the way bail reform has been structured in the city of Atlanta is an abject failure,” Bond said.

Channel 2 revealed last week that the number of city court defendants failing to appear rose from 2,400 a month right before the new law passed to 4,300 a month in the 14-months ending last December, an increase of 80%.

“We’re saying, hey, we don’t want to hold you. We trust you. We have faith you’re going to show up. They don’t show, then the people they’ve affected, they don’t get to have their justice in court,” Bond said.

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Other charges involving no-shows include indecent exposure, hit and run, criminal damage to property and obstruction of police.

Neither the court nor the mayor’s office provided a statement about the cases.