Machine Bypasses Bail Bondsmen

Machine Bypasses Bail Bondsmen

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Who needs a bail bondsman to get out of jail?

Starting this week, Santa Clara County will offer some suspects an interactive kiosk where they can use a credit card to get out of the slammer within minutes of being booked.

It's like an automatic teller machine, but instead of dispensing cash it grants instant access out of jail.

The heaviest use is expected from those arrested for relatively minor crimes with bails under $5,000 _ well within the limit many people carry on their credit cards. Crimes will include vandalism, assault, drunken driving and drug possession.

Defendants get the basic bail amount back from the county once the case is resolved _ as long as they show up in court. If they use a bail bond agent or the kiosk, they pay a 10 percent nonrefundable fee.

County officials said the bail kiosks will reduce taxpayer costs and jail overcrowding.

Bail bondsmen hate the idea, claiming the service is illegal because it's not state-licensed, like they must be. They also complain the it's unfair competition.

``The first time I heard about this was last week, and I was flabbergasted,'' said Ted Wallace, president of the Santa Clara County Professional Bail Association. ``We're definitely investigating our legal options.''

Judicial Solutions, the company that operates the kiosk, said it doesn't need a license because it doesn't put up money for defendants, just enables them to tap into their own credit lines.

``It's a fairly political product because the bail industry has had it to themselves for 240 years,'' said John Bergmann, president of Judicial Solutions. ``But we're definitely not bailing out O.J. Simpson; we're taking the crumbs.''

San Luis Obispo, whose jail population of 500 inmates is about one-tenth the size of Santa Clara County's, has had a kiosk for four months. It is used mostly to post small bail amounts, but bail bond agents there also are upset.

``We're prohibited by state law from advertising in the jails, yet there is this kiosk in the lobby that every 15 minutes or so announces that you can use it to post bail,'' said Todd Dolezal, an agent with San Luis Bail Bonds.

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Thanks Tim and Anna!

Thanks Kinetic!

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