Sen. Ward Sponsors Bill to Deny Bail to Most Violent Offenders

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said today he would propose an amendment to the Alabama Constitution to take away the right to bail for defendants accused of some of the most serious crimes.

Ward said he was motivated, in part, by the death of college student Aniah Blanchard in October. Ibraheem Yazeed, who is charged with the kidnapping and murder of Blanchard, had been released on a $280,000 bond on two counts of kidnapping, two counts of robbery and one count of attempted murder when he was arrested in the Blanchard case.

“This was somebody who shouldn’t have been on the streets,” Ward said. “Had this person not been on the street, that girl would be alive today.”

Section 16 of the Alabama Constitution affirms the right to bail except for those charged with capital offenses.

Ward’s bill, which he said he would introduce for the legislative session that starts in three weeks, would say that people charged with murder, rape, sodomy, sexual abuse, sexual torture, human trafficking and kidnapping could not be released on bond before their trial.

If approved by three-fifths of the members of the Senate and House it would go on the ballot for voters to have the final say on whether to change the state Constitution.

Rep. Chip Brown, R-Mobile, is also sponsoring a bill to amend the state constitution to allow more people charged with serious crimes to be held without bail. Brown’s amendment would expand the exception to a right to bail to cover Class A felonies involving danger to the victim, like first-degree rape, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree robbery, and murder charges that are not capital offenses. Brown sponsored the bill last year, too, but it did not pass.

Ward said he would expect his bill to be challenged in court if it becomes law.

“But I’m not worried about the constitutionality in the courts,” Ward said. "I’ve seen it upheld in other states. It’s constitutional. It’s been said so by the courts. But more importantly than folks filing lawsuits, it’s about the public safety. Victims of crime."

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

Ward chairs the Judiciary Committee in the Senate and has been a leader in criminal justice reform efforts in Alabama.

“I do believe in reforming our system,” Ward said. “It’s broken. But at the same time, it’s a balancing act. It can’t be all one way or the other. And this is one of those that I truly believe should put the victims first and public safety first. And I think we should always keep that in mind when we’re dealing with criminal justice in Alabama.”

Ward is serving his third term in the Senate after two terms in the House. He is running for the Republican nomination for a seat on the Alabama Supreme Court against Justice Greg Shaw.

Ward said he studied laws in other states and said his proposal is similar to Arizona’s.

The legislative session starts Feb. 4.

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