MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Two county attorneys are coming together to change how bail works.

It means bail money will no longer be needed for many crimes in Hennepin and Washington counties.

Instead of waiting on the legislature, they are effectively ending bail payments and jail stays for a list of non-violent crimes starting in 2021.

Minnesotan Lovell Oates knows a lot about the justice system. The paralegal and event producer was released a few months ago after serving 21 years in prison for a case he says he was wrongly convicted in. He believes the bail system hurt his case.

“Of course it did, I know it did. Just imagine you been put somewhere, put in basically a prison before you even convicted of anything,” Oates said.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman says the changes are completely necessary.

“We don’t want to clog up our jails with persons who are not a threat, so that we have the space and the money to hold violent offenders,” Freeman said. “And equally important … we do not want to hold anyone unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

(credit: CBS)

Freeman and Washington County Attorney Pete Orput say bail will no longer be required for 19 low-level offenses, including minor drug possession, theft and financial crimes.

“Why are we holding them in jail at about $50 to $60 a day? And they grind the time, especially now during COVID when we don’t even have court hearings?” Orput said. “I just think it’s grossly unfair, and it really does have an impact on a whole class of people in the poverty level of this country, and that’s significant.”

The attorneys, joined by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, say the bail doesn’t keep the streets safer. It just gives people who can afford to post bail an advantage, and a disadvantage for those who can’t.

“If they see you in jail, or what’s going on, then they’re going to automatically, that’s human nature, assume that you’re guilty,” Oates said.

Oates, who is working several jobs and getting back on his feet, says he wants to see bail eliminated in many more cases.

Freeman believes more county attorneys will join in, in hopes of freeing up the jails, and providing justice to all.

Ellison says his office plans to push Minnesota lawmakers to make bail elimination a statewide change.

In Hennepin and Washington counties, bail can still be used on non-violent cases if they believe a suspect is a risk.

Here is the full list of crimes where bail will not be requested:

  • Fifth-degree sale or possession of narcotics
  • Theft under $35,000
  • Theft of a motor vehicle
  • Forgery
  • Damage to property
  • Fraudulent identification or driver’s license
  • Possession of burglary/theft tools
  • Identity theft
  • Mail theft
  • Possession of stolen or counterfeit check
  • Possession of shoplifting gear
  • Dishonored check
  • Insurance fraud
  • Fourth-degree sale or possession of narcotics
  • Counterfeiting currency
  • Sales of simulated controlled substances
  • Wrongfully obtaining public assistance
  • Wrongfully obtaining unemployment benefits
  • Lottery fraud

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield