How did an accused murderer get a $200,000 bond?

How can a murder suspect get a bond?

That’s the question that’s been buzzing on social media this week in the aftermath of the murder of Alice Heckard. Her accused murderer, Charles Lampley, has been charged with 2nd degree murder, but was given a bond of $200,000.

The fact that the suspect received a bond at all raised questions in the community. Many are uninformed about the bail bond process in Louisiana.

A bail is not a punishment for a crime. It is an amount set by the court to guarantee that a suspect shows up for court appearances and trial. A bond is set for most crimes except 1st Degree murder. Bonds may be denied if the DA tells the judge that the suspect is likely to run away.

A person who is issued a traffic ticket has actually been arrested. The driver signs the ticket promises that he/she will show up for court. No bail is required. If the driver does not sign the ticket he/she will be arrested.

A person that commits a crime usually does not get a ticket, they are arrested. On some occasions, suspects are released on their word or on the orders of a judge. If that doesn’t happen the suspect can be released if he/she puts up money that guarantees they will show up in court. The amount they put up is called bail.

The amount of money depends on the crime or on how the judge feels on any given day. Some judges who claim to be tough on crime set high bails to make it hard for suspects to get free. It’s not unusual for a second-degree murder suspect to receive a million-dollar bond.

There are some judges that contend that suspects are innocent until proven guilty and have a right to defend themselves against murder accusations, so they set “reasonable” bonds, even in murder cases. The bond in the Heckard murder was set at $200,000; which is considered reasonable for the offense.

The suspect, Charles Lampley, may not have $200,000 to get out of jail, but he can use a bail bond company to put up the money for him. A bailbond company usually writes an insurance policy that guarantees to pay the court $200,000 if Lampley does not show up for trial. The bail bond company will probably charge Lampley or his family between $20,000 and $25,000 to get him out. A large portion of the amount goes to the insurance company and the bonding agent gets the rest.

If Lampley does not show up for trial, the bail bondsmen, becomes a bounty-hunter and will track him down, at gun-point if necessary and bring him back to court. If the bondsman can’t get him into court, the bondsman has to fork over $200,000 to the local court.

If Lampley does show up for all of his hearings and court appearances, then the bail bond company is released from its obligation. Without a plea bargain, it could be as long as five years before a murder case is resolved through the courts.

However, Lampley’s family, or friends could put up the $200,000 in cash to guarantee his release. In lieu of cash, they can pledge their mortgagae-free homes or property. Once his case is ended, regardless of the verdict, their money or property is returned.

If he fails to show up, the courts will give the family time to track him down and get him to come to court. If he skips, they lose it all.

If Lampley can’t come up with $20,000 for a bail bondsman and his family can’t put up property worth $200,000, then he will sit in jail until his case, including all appeals, ends.

There is no standard used by all judges, that’s why there is confusion. Some suspects have received high bonds for possession of drugs and others get low bonds for murders and assault. Some suspects have received no bonds at all.

One day the judges will get their heads together and develop a standard that is both fair and consistent across the board.

Until that day comes, the amount of bond a suspect pays all depends on whether or not the suspect gets the right judge and whether that judge is having a good day.

The present procedure is neither fair or equitable, especially when there has been a tragic murder and emotions are high.