Durham woman questions magistrate who sets bonds for suspects in jail

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A Durham woman reached out to ABC11 to find out more about the legal process because she's worried an alleged sex offender posted bond too easily. (WTVD)

Does the punishment fit the alleged crime?

Once a jury convicts the accused, a judge then issues the sentence. The rules are different, however, when the accused is first charged by prosecutors and then arrested.

A Durham woman reached out to ABC11 to find out more about this process because she's worried an alleged sex offender posted bond too easily.

"I think the bond should've been much higher," the woman, who only gave her name as Jen to protect her anonymity, lamented. "I think it should've been a lot harder than to write a check and before the ink dries, you're out."

The accused offender is Jen's father-in-law, Howard Lawrence Smith, who's been charged with 21 counts of sexual exploitation of minors; the arrest warrant alleges Smith possessed dozens of pictures of child pornography.

"Children will be affected for the rest of their lives because of other's actions and there's no accountability," Jen added. "It is dangerous for the man to be on the streets."

Indeed, the bedrock of the American justice system is that anyone accused is considered innocent until proven guilty, but the justice system also has protections to ensure the accused actually shows up in court and faces the charges, along with a judge and jury. That tool is a bond, which varies in amount based on the severity of the crime and flight risk.

The bond can be guaranteed by a bonding agent that takes an insurance fee from the accused - guaranteeing to the court that the accused will show up in court for the scheduled appearances. If the accused doesn't, the bond must be paid out in full.

In Smith's case, the court magistrate set a $75,000 bond - more than double the recommended amount by North Carolina's criminal code - but because Smith has never been charged before and he has strong ties to the community, the bonding agent only required a 10 percent deposit. That means Smith spent $7,500 to guarantee his bond and get out of jail.

Criminal defense attorneys we spoke with say Jen should trust the trial process and if there's a conviction she can certainly judge the sentence.

"Again in America you're innocent until proven guilty," attorney Marcus Hill explained to ABC11. "Many people forget that and think with the charge we should begin the sentence."

Smith is due back in court later this fall.

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