High-stakes game of survival for professional ‘bailer man’
ON any given day, professional “bailer man” Onesimus* and several others like him meld with the crowd outside a particular parish court in a game of chance that can even prove deadly if not played right. But for him, like others, it is survival.
“Yuh affi just tek a chance because if me bail you and you run, me inna trouble. Mi bail anybody, anyone [who] come. Let’s say for instance you come to me for your son and mi say, ‘weh yuh son charge for?’ Yuh son charge fi murder. If the offer weh me put to yuh, you willing fi stay with it, mi will do it,” he told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.
The father of four, who is using a pseudonym, has been part of the “industry” for the past five years, and says his job as a surety has even seen him travelling to other parts of the island to offer his services.
“Any weh the work deh. Suppose somebody say them have somebody fi bail a St Mary and dem come to me? Me investigate them ting and it sound proper, me get me ting sorted out and me go do me ting. A so it go,” he said.
Presently, bail, which is a right guaranteed under the constitution, may be offered by the court with one surety or more than one. Anyone standing surety has accepted liability for the bail amount in the event that the accused absconds. An accused can also stand as their own surety depending on the nature of the offence. A new bail law, which is now being debated by lawmakers, will permit a grant of bail at three stages â€” pre-charge, post-charge, and post-conviction in defined cases.
For Onesimus and others standing surety under the present regime, there is one common fear.
“Let’s say him [accused he stood surety for] run now, that’s a next problem pon me. Let’s say the bail is a million dollars and him run, a warrant a go take out fi him come a court and him nuh come, then them a go serve summons for him surety, which is me. When them hold the somebody who do the bond now, them bring him before the judge, you have to pay the million dollars, because you owe responsibility for that person to turn up a court,” he explained.
He said while this has never happened to him before he is aware of “other people weh it happen to”.
“Your particulars them going to use [for the bail]. Is chance, you take chance,” he noted.
When posting bail in the sum of $50,000 or less, a surety is required to produce two passport-sized photographs that must not be taken more than six months prior; a Proclamations, Rules and Regulations Form, a statutory declaration, a valid identification and proof of address. For bail over the sum of $50,000, the surety would require all the foregoing in addition to proof of collateral to post bail. This collateral may be in the form of land, motor vehicle or cash.
While he might not have been left high and dry by a client who absconded, Onesimus has received death threats and has been left with empty pockets after performing his “duty” he said.
“All the while yuh get [threats]. Let’s say you bail somebody and him fi pay you and him nuh finish pay you, some a dem will bring badness to you too innuh,” he says, noting that when he comes across people who are threatening his life he says “alright you win”.
“Mi nuh fight, but hope you don’t find yuh self in a di same hole again a next time, because I’m not gonna be there. Mi come across some good people. Mi come across some people too weh bad,” he shared.
As to how lucrative his job is, he held those cards close to his chest but let’s on that “it’s not a specific price. Seh the judge put up a $10 bail, we charge you $5. But sometimes we don’t get that neither. So, if the bail a $1 million, mi would a charge bout half a dat. Sometimes you nuh get nuh work, but if you stay a yuh yard you still nah go get nuh work, so you affi come out,” he said.
Asked how he feels about the new Bail Act which includes enhanced provisions for sureties, he said, “mi nuh nervous. Just a go gwaan do mi ting. If [the Government] can set up something that when we do the work we nuh in a no problem, that would be good fi we. But other than that, we affi just keep taking chances and hope we find good people fi work wid. All mi would a like fi see a more client come,” he confided.
Attorney-at-law Alexander Shaw, speaking of individuals like Onesimus where the new Bail Act is concerned, said, “sureties now have to do far greater work than they have been doing as the new Bill places emphasis on a greater level of responsibility and monitoring that [sureties] now have to comply with”.
According to section 16 of the new Bail Act, when considering the suitability of a proposed surety, regard shall be had to such factors as the deciding official thinks relevant, including the proposed surety’s profession, occupation, trade or business; character and previous convictions (if any); proximity, whether of kinship, place of residence or otherwise to the defendant; and capacity to supervise the conduct of the defendant and to ensure the defendant’s appearance in court where required.
It further says a surety shall be required to make a declaration and shall have a duty to ensure that the defendant adheres to the conditions of the defendant’s bail and appears in court when required. A justice of the peace, a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force not below the rank of sergeant, a minister of religion, or a principal of an educational institution other than a pre-primary school, is required to attest to the surety’s identity and good character.
The surety or any individual under that section who makes a false statement in any of the declarations commits an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction before a parish court to a fine not exceeding three million dollars, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or to both fine and imprisonment.
Shaw, in the meantime, says there are far-reaching implications when an accused jumps bail as it impacts not just the surety or sureties but also the court and attorneys.
“It paints a negative picture for you because as an officer of the court you really want the court to repose trust and confidence in whatever you say and if it is that your client is putting you in such a conundrum that you are unable to be reliable. So that is the implication and so too the financial repercussions. But your relationship with the court is affected, you are not just disappointed, but you are also embarrassed. I have had the experience and it has nothing to do with whether or not there is a strong case.”
“Sometimes it’s just the anxiety of facing a trial that pushes them to run because they are thinking, ‘Oh Lord, I am going to be found guilty, I am innocent, or I am going to be locked away for many years’, and sometimes the reality is that the case is so weak, that will happen. But sometimes the village lawyers interpose the advice of attorneys, and you find that accused persons rely on some of these village lawyers and ignore the advice given by the attorney,” Shaw said.