Hennepin and Washington county attorneys will no longer request bail for certain low-level crimes

A huge change is coming to Hennepin and Washington counties that will keep hundreds of people from sitting in jail because of bail they can't afford.

Wednesday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced a list of crimes that he will no longer request bail for. The list includes low-level drug possession or sales charges, theft under $35,000, motor vehicle theft, damage to property, shoplifting, counterfeiting currency, and identity theft.

Freeman says the list of crimes that would qualify for a no-bail request are low-level offenses and non-violent crimes. But the move to eliminate bail for low-level crimes is certainly not without controversy.

"The bottom line principle is we ought not to hold people in jail pre-adjudication merely because they’re poor and can’t make bail," explained Freeman.

For Mike Freeman, bail reform is simply about fairness. He says the difference between who can get released on charges and return to their families and those who can't often comes down to wealth. He says it has nothing to do with public safety.

"We know that the individuals in a number of these crimes are disproportionately black, we think this change will reduce the disparity of who’s sitting in our county jail," he explained.

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput says he is following suit with Hennepin County.

"How do I argue that the guy who put up the cash makes us safer because he could put up cash, it doesn't," argued Orput.

Orput says when COVID-19 forced jails to only hold certain offenders, it drove the point home.

"That culled my jail from a population of about 210 to about 40," said Orput. "When that was done, I went to my police chiefs and said this is what I’ve been talking to you guys about for a couple of years."

"We will be having statewide conversations, these conversations are critical," added Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.

Encouraged by Attorney General Keith Ellison, the attorneys hope other county attorneys will follow their lead. They say it will save money and might save people.

"I just think it’s grossly unfair and it really does have an impact on a whole class of people in the poverty level of this country and that’s significant," said Orput.

Crimes where bail will not be requested (from Hennepin County Attorney Freeman):

1. Fifth-degree sale or possession of Narcotics,
2. Theft under $35,000,
3. Theft of a motor vehicle,
4. Forgery,
5. Damage to property,
6. Fraudulent identification or Driver’s License,
7. Possession of Burglary/theft tools,
8. Identity Theft,
9. Mail theft,
10. Possession of stolen or counterfeit check,
11. Possession of shoplifting gear,
12. Dishonored check,
13. Insurance fraud,
14. Fourth-degree sale or possession of narcotics,
15. Counterfeiting currency,
16. Sales of simulated controlled substances,
17. Wrongfully obtaining public assistance,
18. Wrongfully obtaining unemployment benefits, and
19. Lottery Fraud.

A family applauds the decision

Darrin Vaughn said he would’ve lost everything if a family member didn’t help him post the bail that would get him out of jail 20 years ago.

“I wouldn’t of got out because I didn’t have the money or anything,” he told Fox 9 news.  “It could cost you your car, you can’t make your car payment, your rent […] and then you’re put on the streets because you have to pay a bond.”

Vaughn said he’s happy to hear Hennepin County’s decision to do away with bail requirements for low level crimes such as mail theft and property damage.

He said the changes to the bail system are a step in the right direction. 

“If it’s a nonviolent crime who have they hurt. Why are they locked up if it’s no victim or anyone was hurt,” he added.