Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bass-Ackward Justice In Alaska: DUI Suspect Held On $20,000 Bail And Custodian Requirement, But Accused Anchorage Taxicab Rapist Released On $5,000 Bail

Here's an example of bass-ackward justice in Alaska. The conditions of bail ought to be reversed in these two cases.

First, the case of Tammy Dupree in Palmer. On Saturday August 27th, 2011, Dupree was in a 1998 Hyundai Accent in the northbound lane of the Glenn Highway at Mile 38 near the Fox Run RV park, attempting to turn left into the RV park. Stephanie S. Smith was also traveling north in a 2006 Hyundai Accent when she tried to pass Dupree's vehicle on the soft right shoulder and lost control; Smith's car then crossed into the southbound Glenn and hit a Ford F150 head-on. Both Smith and her passenger have been hospitalized at Mat-Su Regional Hospital; the F150 driver was uninjured.

It does not appear that Tammy Dupree was involved in the accident; however, Dupree then fled the scene into the RV Park. Alaska State Troopers tracked her down, found out she didn't have a drivers license, and asked her to provide a breath sample; she refused. She was booked at Mat-Su Pretrial on a felony charge of driving under the influence, felony refusal to take a DUI test, driving without a license, and misuse of license plates. She was being held Sunday on $20,000 bail and can only be released to a court-approved third party custodian.

Tammy Dupree has numerous entries in the Alaska Court System database. Her latest arrest is documented under Case No. 3PA-11-02189CR. Considering the bigger picture, the bail might be appropriate, if a bit high. So how much bail would an accused rapist be required to pay?

In the case of Anchorage cab driver Chidiebere Nwokorie, not as much. Nwokorie has been accused of raping a woman at a cab-service lot in Anchorage on August 21st. Just before 2:30 p.m., the victim, frightened and clutching her pants in her hand, flagged down a passing motorist, Bradley Orr, and told him a Yellow Cab driver had sexually assaulted her. Orr called police immediately. While waiting for police to arrive, Nwokorie pulled up again in his cab. When Nwokorie got out of his cab and walked toward Orr's vehicle, Orr got a pistol from his back seat and held Nwokorie there until police arrived. He is being charged with first-degree sexual assault, attempted first-degree sexual assault, and second-degree sexual assault. Even now, police are investigating additional allegations of sexual assault against Nwokorie.

Chidiebere Nwokorie, a Kenyan immigrant who has been in the U.S. for six years, has only three entries in the Alaska Court System database. This arrest, his first, is documented under Case No. 3AN-11-09482CR. Yet Magistrate James Stanley set bail at only $5,000, and imposed no custodian requirement. The bail hearing lasted only 16 minutes; Stanley noted that Nwokorie didn't have a prior criminal record. He said he wasn't going to require a third party to watch over the defendant, suggesting it was because alcohol was not a factor. But some police officers say that Stanley has a reputation for setting excessively low bail amounts. Stanley was appointed as a magistrate by Judge Sharon Gleason; unlike judges, magistrates are not subject to retention elections.

Many Alaskans are surprised and outraged at the low bail imposed on Chidiebere Nwokorie. Bail bondsman Fred Adkerson said bail in first-degree sexual assault cases usually is at least $25,000 cash-only and a third-party custodian, and can go as high as $50,000. The Anchorage Daily News weighed in twice editorially criticizing the decision, on August 23rd in "Our view: Wrong message" and again on August 24th in "Our view: No answer on rape bail".

In response to the growing criticism, former magistrate Ronald M. Wielkopolski published a Compass piece entitled "Magistrate's job defies easy explanation", in which he tries to educate the public on the job of a magistrate. First, he notes that Stanley is prohibited by ethical mandates to comment publicly on the substance of a pending case; his public comments could undermine the impartiality and integrity of the judiciary. But most notably, Wielkopolski acquaints us with the sheer complexity of the magistrate's job. The magistrate is often called upon to juggle multiple balls, dealing with requests for restraining orders, probable cause warrant requests, search warrant requests, bail hearings, and traffic court trials. Magistrates do the tasks that judges don't want to do.

Still, the $5,000 bail requirement seems ludicrously low, even despite Chidiebere Nwokorie's lack of a prior criminal record. The presumption of innocence must be effectively balanced with a concern for public safety. I would have imposed at least a $10,000 bail requirement, and given Nwokorie a choice between getting a third-party custodian or ankle monitoring. Chidiebere Nwokorie poses a greater threat to the public safety than Tammy Dupree, and bail requirements should reflect this difference.

Update August 31st: Stung by a public outcry, prosecutor Brittany Dunlop asked Anchorage District Judge Bob Linton to re-visit the bail requirements during an August 31st hearing. Judge Linton did so, raising Nwokorie's bail to $50,000 and imposing a third-party custodian requirement upon him.

No comments:

Post a Comment