Within 24 hours of a person being arrested and booked into jail, a judge sets bail. For example, if the judge sets bail at $5,000 bond, the person must pay 10 percent ($500) to a bail bond company and can be released from jail.

Over the past several years, judges in the 4th District set bail so a person could post either a bond or cash bail to be released. For example, the judge would set bail at either $5,000 bond or $500 cash. This would require the arrested person to pay either $500 to a bail bond company or pay $500 directly to the court. If the person paid $500 directly to the court and appeared at all his hearings, the person would get his $500 back from the court when the case resolved.

However, if the person paid $500 to a bail bond company, the bail bond company would keep the $500 — even if the person always appeared in court. In other words, the bail bond company would make money for doing nothing if the person showed up in court — and the majority of people do show up to court.

When a person resolves his criminal case, the court imposes a fine, so we at the Utah County Attorney’s Office thought it would be helpful for the person who posted cash bail to receive their cash bail back to help them pay the fine or cover other costs.

However, when we started asking for cash bail several years ago, the bail bond companies hired an attorney who sent us a letter threatening to sue our office because we were taking money away from the bail bond companies. We ignored this threat because we believed the statute allowed the judges to set cash bail and it benefited defendants who diligently appeared at all their court hearings by getting their bail returned.

After our office refused to stop requesting cash bail, lobbyists for the bail bond companies shifted into high gear and sought out legislators to call in a favor. The goal of the bail bond companies was to preserve their cash flow, which they believed was being threatened.Sen. J. Stuart Adams was to be the chief sponsor of new legislation with Rep. Daniel McCay as the House sponsor.

In 2017 the Utah Legislature voted to amend the bail statute by stating that if a judge set bail at $5,000 bond, the judge must set cash bail at the same amount — $5,000 cash. In other words, an arrested person can pay $500 (10 percent of $5,000) to a bail bond company to get out of jail or fork over $5,000 in cash to the court to get out of jail.

Even a math-challenged prosecutor like me can predict that an arrested person is not going to pay $5,000 in cash to get out of jail when he could give a bail bond company $500 to be released. This legislative perk to the bail bond companies is so blatant and obvious that it is almost comical. The vast majority of arrested people will be placed on probation and returned to our communities.

While I never considered myself to be a bleeding heart, it would be a nice gesture to allow those arrested to receive their bail back if they took responsibility for their conduct and showed up to all their court hearings. However, this new legislation helps ensure a steady cash flow to the bail bond companies. Once again, big lobbyists prevail over the little guy. What a shock.

Timothy L. Taylor is the criminal division chief at the Utah County Attorney's Office.