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Ohio court: Bond cash deposits unconstitutional

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Requiring criminal defendants to post cash-only deposits when bonding out of jail violates the state constitution, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

A 10 percent cash deposit can remain an option for defendants, but judges can't make it mandatory, the court said, noting the constitution's only requirement is that defendants be "bailable by sufficient sureties."

The Ohio Constitution does not mention cash-only bail and requiring a specific method would run the risk of favoring wealthy defendants, Justice Sharon Kennedy wrote for the majority.

"Excessive bail and bail with no access to a surety would prevent many from release pending their criminal trials," she said.

At issue were complaints filed by bail bond companies with the court over requirements for cash-only deposits by judges in Wayne and Licking counties.

Bond companies typically assume the burden of forfeiting the entire bail amount if the criminal defendant who hires them fails to show up in court.

Court officials argued that when defendants post the cash deposit, they get 90 percent of their posted money back, whereas a bond company won't return any of a defendant's money.

Kennedy called that argument irrelevant.

"The point is not what happens after the criminal trial is over, but whether an eligible defendant can get out on bail pending that trial," she wrote.

Justice Paul Pfeifer dissented, saying the constitution makes clear that judges "may determine at any time the type, amount and conditions of bail."

Justice Terrence O'Donnell also dissented, questioning whether bond companies have a legal right to post a surety bond in the first place.

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