The dispute over Derek Chauvin’s $1 million bail shows the system is irrational and broken


Derek Chauvin, the now-fired Minneapolis police officer charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter for killing George Floyd on duty in May, was released from custody last week, and his bail conditions will allow him to leave the state, an unusual departure from typical bail rules.

Chauvin’s bail didn’t come cheap — he had to post $1 million conditional bail through a bail bond agency, which means his family or someone who supports him has to pay $100,000 to the agency, which they never did get it back, even if Chauvin is found not guilty.

Floyd’s death has sparked a summer of heated anger, protests and riots across the country over police misconduct. Video footage of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck has made targets for Chauvin and the three other former police officers involved. Their lawyers told a judge they had received multiple death threats and were confronted by angry protesters outside a courthouse after a pre-trial hearing.

Because of all the tension, Hennepin County Judge Peter A. Cahill ruled that Chauvin would be allowed out of Minneapolis and hole up somewhere else in the state or in one of the states bordering Minnesota for his own safety. The address would be given to the court and to those who need to know where he is staying.

CNN reports that some were outraged that Chauvin was even granted bail. For consistency, they shouldn’t be. The purpose of bail is to set terms for the release of an accused that will guarantee that the accused will return to court and not cause trouble or commit crimes during his release. Unless there is evidence that Chauvin goes out and commits more crimes or flees the country, Chauvin should be released. And if there’s any chance of angry people threatening Chauvin’s safety, the judge has a duty to do something to ensure the man is protected.

Chauvin, like anyone else charged with a crime, should be treated as innocent until proven guilty. Pre-trial detention puts punishment before conviction and should be avoided unless there is no other way to keep the public safe and ensure the accused returns to court.

There is certainly some outrage at the injustice of the bail bond system – many poor people are unable to cover the money demanded by the bail bond companies end up in jail, sometimes for months. As a result, they are more likely to accept bad pleas and harsher punishments. As mentioned above, someone had to make $100,000 in payments to get Chauvin out of prison. People who are pissed that Chauvin was able to do this should note that the alternative — leaving Chauvin in prison — runs counter to efforts at criminal justice reform. That should be the goal only Persons who are proven to be too dangerous to be released remain in custody.

Aside from anger over Chauvin’s release, there is now controversy over who paid Chauvin’s bail and whether he has a secret benefactor. This is essentially a moment when partisans switch sides on the issue: During this summer’s protests, the Minnesota Freedom Fund came under attack from conservatives for accepting donations and using it to save people who did were arrested at protests. Minnesota State Assemblyman Paul Novotny, a Republican, told the Star Tribune that he was preparing a bill he would introduce next year to require a public record when a third party posts bail.

Now that Chauvin has been released, the Star Tribune reports that there was speculation on social media about who had paid his bail. This adds even more hypocrisy to the bail fight; If Chauvin needed help paying bail, that’s proof his bail was overstated — unless you mistakenly believe people should remain incarcerated ahead of their trial. If that’s the case, you’re essentially admitting that you want to punish Chauvin now before he’s convicted.

The only reason we need to know who posted Chauvin’s bail is to avenge, embarrass, or harass her. This is not justice, and it is certainly not criminal justice reform.

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