Why do Bexar County judges keep releasing domestic violence suspects on the honor system?
1 in 3 rearrested on other charges, including murder, aggravated assault
SAN ANTONIO – A months-long investigation by the KSAT 12 Defenders found that more than 32 percent of Bexar County domestic violence suspects were rearrested after being released from custody without posting bail.
The Defenders examined 477 family violence cases over a two-year period, from February 2016 to February of this year, in which people charged with family violence offenses were released on their own recognizance.
Personal recognizance (PR) bonds are typically issued to defendants who cannot afford to pay bail, as long as they have gone through a risk assessment and promise to show up for all of their future court appearances.
The Bexar County figures have caught the attention of advocates for domestic violence victims, including Battered Women and Children's Shelter/Family Violence Prevention Services president and CEO Marta Prada Pelaez.
"It's giving that abuser an opportunity to go, and since he hasn't received a proper handling by the law, he's going to punish that victim," said Prada Pelaez.
"The one thing that is predictable about domestic violence, the abuser, it's a progressive situation."
Prada Pelaez said the rearrest data is so concerning because its release comes during what has already been a record-setting year for domestic violence-related fatalities in Bexar County.
Prada Pelaez said during the first six months of 2018 there were 18 domestic violence-related deaths, not counting suspects in murder-suicides.
She said the county had 11 all of last year.
Prada Pelaez said that one of her main concerns with the current PR bond setup is that it does not allow for intervention on behalf of domestic violence victims.
"I'd say it's a tight program but it's not foolproof," said Mike Lozito, Bexar County's Judicial Services and Intake director.
He added that the county is limited on what conditions it can set before a case goes to trial, since defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that some of the suspects that were rearrested were charged after their pretrial supervision had ended.
Lozito pointed out that less than 10 percent of domestic violence suspects are offered PR bonds, compared to around 30 percent of suspects in other criminal cases.
He also said that family violence suspects are not eligible for release from the Central Magistrate's Office on a PR bond and must instead wait until the county court or district court judge hearing the case decides whether to grant a bond.
"Their hands are kind of tied that they have to release certain individuals," said Lozito.
Lozito said the release of domestic violence suspects is not a jail overcrowding issue, but instead is more of a response to bail bond reform driven by a lawsuit in Harris County.
Lozito said even in felony domestic violence cases, defendants must be offered a PR bond after 90 days if the case has not gone to trial.
One of the suspects rearrested after getting a PR bond was John Benjumea, whose criminal record prior to his 2016 arrest on domestic violence charges included two felony drug convictions and a separate arrest for deadly conduct.
Records show Benjumea was released on a PR bond weeks after being arrested.
He was then accused of choking the same family member two months later.
A Bexar County grand jury indicted Benjumea for felony continuous family violence in July 2017.
Jasmine Segovia was released on a PR bond in late 2016, a month after being charged with assaulting a family member.
Three months later she was charged with murder in connection to the stabbing death of a woman in a Walmart parking lot on the far West Side.
Prosecutors dismissed the murder charge last July after the lead SAPD detective in the case determined that Segovia had killed her friend while acting in self-defense.
The case remains open pending further investigation, according to the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office.
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