I've recently taken an interest in a part of the American legal system that tends to go overlooked in GTAW: bail and the business of bail-bonds that is alive and well in the USA as a result. I have a character that, while passionate about law and protecting the rights of the accused, doesn't exactly possess the intellectual might to be an attorney. But the absence of an authentic bail & bond system affects far more than just the development of my character...
The ability(or sometimes the inability) for a defendant to pay their bond can sometimes mean the difference between a guilty verdict and a not-guilty one. It's because of that reason that bondsmen front billions of dollars a year to see their clients achieve pre-trial release. It is a system that would provide a vast amount of depth to the already thriving justice system of GTAW, as defendants would now have to weigh not only the risks to their health and liberty posed by criminal behavior - but also the financial cost.
The bail-bonds system hardly ends with a defendant's ability to pay their bond though. Rather, it is only the beginning to a wealth of roleplay potential. Be it with bail-bondsmen struggling to collect debts owed to them by their clients, or the complications that ensue between bondsmen and law enforcement alike should defendants choose to skip their court dates.
But authentically and incorporating the dynamics of the bail-bonds industry would require relatively substantial changes to how the justice system operates on GTAW, but I believe the potential inconvenience of designing and implementing such changes is highly outweighed by the added depth such a system would introduce.
- What Is Bail-Bonds & How Does It Work? -
Put simply, bondsmen and bail-bond agencies front the money to secure a defendant's release from jail when they cannot pay their own bail, typically at an up-front cost to the defendant of approximately 10% of the total bail and a long series of payments with interest paid to the bondsmen until the debt is fulfilled. While 'bail' and 'bond' are sometimes used interchangeably, the ‘bail’ itself is the money a defendant is forced to pay out should they miss court. Whereas the ‘bond’ is an upfront surety paid to the courts in order to facilitate a defendant’s release. Defendants that have their bond posted by bail-bond agencies no longer have to shoulder that burden. Instead, the bail-bondsman does.
It should be noted that it is very likely that in order to incorporate this system in a way that is possible in GTAW, there may need to be fundamental alterations to the business model given the limitations of GTAW, such as how debts are handled.
There are very obvious ethical problems with this form of business(as it is first and foremost a business, not a charity), and there are few greater sources of quality roleplay than ethical dilemmas!
- Current Roadblocks & How We Fix Them -
There currently exist four main issues that make the existence of bail bondsmen in GTAW either irrelevant, unnecessary, or simply impossible under present circumstances. It's my belief that the current inability for such an avenue of RP to exist is entirely to the detriment of everyone involved in or interacting with the server's justice system.
Those four main problems are as follows:
(1.) How Bail Is Requested
Problem: In GTAW, a defendant typically has their attorney petition for a bond hearing after characters have been arrested and sent to first appearance court. I am a strong believer that GTAW does not have to mirror real life - but in reality judges typically set a defendant's bail at their first appearance, a time in which most defendants have not even secured legal counsel.
Solution: I suggest that defendants should be able to request a bond hearing after being arrested, but without having to secure legal counsel. I am not advocating for changes to how First Appearance Court functions at this time. Rather, defendants would be able to, whether it be by forum post or PM, ICly go before a judge and have that judge set their bail based on the circumstances of the charges filed against them. It is also important to assert that this initial bond hearing would not preclude defendants from petitioning for bond once again after retaining legal counsel should they be denied initially.
Benefits: This avoids having to overhaul penal codes, assign specific bail recommendations for specific crimes, etc. All while enabling defendants to have more legal autonomy and to secure bail BEFORE having to commit to legal counsel.
(2.) The Cost of Bail
Problem: The price of bail is a very fluid thing in the American justice system. Two people can commit the same crime and receive drastically different bonds based on factors such as: risk of fleeing the county/state/country, the risk the defendants pose to themselves or others, etc. With that said, based on what I can gather from court cases in GTAW, bail amounts tend to be set quite low relative to the GTAW economy. Cases such as a SHAFT Code Violation or Evading Police see bails set at only $5,000 and $3,000 respectively. These are amounts that virtually every character on GTAW can meet with ease. Even in a case with far more serious charges, bail is set at $40,000 dollars. A slightly more threatening price tag, but one that is most likely achievable by many players. I want to stress that I am not passing judgement on these cases in particular nor the people that have participated in them.
Solution: Urge judges to carefully not only the risks a defendant may pose should they be let out on bail/bond, but also consider a bail that presents a substantial financial risk relative to the server's economy as well as the individual's own economic status should bail be granted.
Benefits: A new level of depth is added to the RP of career criminals and first-time offenders alike, prompting them to consider not only the threats to their life and liberty that committing crimes present, as well as the new threat to their finances should they fail to comply with the justice system following their pre-trial release.
(3.) Insurance & Interest
Problem: A little known fact about the bail-bonds industry in the USA is that bondsmen are typically underwritten by large insurance companies. When bondsmen receive 10% of their clients bail as an up-front fee, typically 10% of that fee is then paid to an insurance company or surety firm. This is combined with most bail-bond agencies maintaining a surety fund, which they would pay out to their insurance company should they incur serious financial problems. Bondsmen are almost always taking an extreme financial risk by providing bail for clients that are likely to default on their debt, and thus insurance companies and surety payments exist to mitigate as much of that risk as possible. Many players of GTAW do not even want to pay their car insurance, let alone pay out to some nebulous insurance company.
Solution: Many players may be completely turned off to the idea of risking financial ruin with this form of RP, but risk and uncertainty are the essence of any good investment. And good Rp. I think it comes with the territory of the bail-bond industry and I personally don't believe that entities like the city government, the Department of Justice, nor GTAW administrators should act to safe-guard the finances of bondsmen when clients cannot pay their debts. Bondsmen should have the responsibility of considering the risk of their clients, as well as forms to mitigate that risk, on a case-by-case basis.
Benefits: Bail Bonds is a business first and foremost, and requiring such a degree of personal responsibility ensures that it is as engaging as it is risky. Bail Bonds agencies will be encouraged to be attentive to their clients at the risk of the financial burden their noncompliance could incur, as well as motivated by the financial gains that their compliance with the court system could entail for the future.
(4.) Bounty Hunters
Problem: This may be the most appealing aspect of bondsmen RP, and also the aspect most likely to be the source of contention. The actual responsibilities of bondsmen in regards to fugitive apprehension is highly exaggerated by television, film, and the internet. But nonetheless they are a very real and important aspect of the bail-bond industry.
Solution: Similar to how those with Guard Cards-holders are given special legal responsibilities, bondsmen seeking to personally apprehend fugitives in the USA must receive some form of licensing from their state government. Such license is often referred to as a limited surety agent or fugitive recovery agent. With careful collaboration and consideration, a series of special legal responsibilities, expectations, and training material could be drafted so that the LSPD could issue such credentials to qualified bondsmen.
Benefits: Bail Bond Agencies will have an extra level of legal accountability and scrutiny, which encourages them to use extreme caution as they ride the fine line between the responsibilities of their industry and those of law enforcement. There also exists the potential for RP that this could bring for fugitives from justice. Not only would they have to contend with law enforcement eager to serve their active warrant, they would also have to be on the lookout for very disgruntled bondsmen eager to get an unruly client sent back to jail.
While I might find the benefits of these changes to be obvious, I also realize that there are many things I may be overlooking. Whether that is potential problems, added benefits, or alternative solutions that I have not considered. While I have partially chosen to post this suggestion as a form of gauging interest, I also wanted to create a space where everyone who wishes can collaborate on this idea to some degree.
Thanks a lot for reading to those of you who actually read, and a very special thanks in advance to anyone who brings their own perspective to the table.