Thoughts on bail policies and the Confederacy

May 8, 2018

Two items in recent Cape Gazette issues deserve comment. One involves bail in the case of the man accused of a hit-and-run death. The other has to do with the Confederate States of America.


A page one story reported on a demonstration in Seaford protesting the release of a man accused of leaving the scene of an accident in which a child died.

"I'm trying to understand why this man is walking around," the mother said. This is a very understandable emotion from a grieving mother. So far, so good.

The problem here, however, is that that the Rev. Al Sharpton's organization out of Washington, D.C. has taken up the cause, and is objecting to the fact that two Delaware judges allowed the defendant out on bail. Or more precisely, modest bail the defendant had no problems meeting. This is sort of the other end of the arguments about bail reform that passed the Delaware General Assembly in January, and now is law.

We should begin with the fact that the U.S. Constitution prohibits unreasonable bail. This is a constitutional provision that has been seriously eroded in the United States in recent years. We have fallen into a practice of demanding higher and higher bail amounts as crime got worse or the crimes got more serious.

The result all too often is unconvicted defendants languishing in jail for months, and sometimes years, without a trial solely because they could not afford or could not raise thousands of dollars in bail. Keep in mind that the purpose of bail is to guarantee the defendant's appearance at trial. It has no other purpose. Supposedly, the judge is to weigh the likelihood of the defendant fleeing.

Take the ongoing saga of Bill Cosby and his conviction last week in Pennsylvania. Cosby is a wealthy man. He has all the means to flee out of Pennsylvania's jurisdiction. So after his conviction, and while he awaits sentencing (not to mention appeals), Cosby is confined to his home. One presumes the $1 million bail he has posted is not much of a factor in whether he would flee or not.

A couple months ago, we happened to wander into a Kent County courtroom just as a prisoner was brought in from the holding cell. He was in prison garb. He was expecting his trial to begin that day. Ooops.

The judge informed him that one of the prosecution's main witnesses was unavailable, so his trial would be rescheduled. This was November. The judge set the trial over until February. So this poor schmuck faced another three months in Smyrna prison even though he wasn't yet convicted of anything. This because he couldn't afford bail.

We don't know Dwayne McConnell's financial circumstances. But it is worth assuming that his ability to flee very far is monumentally less than Cosby's. Perhaps Mr. McConnell will be convicted of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death, a felony. And face some prison time. Perhaps not.

But the question is not whether he is already guilty and still walking around. The question is whether he will show up for trial. And that's the only question. This is about punishment after conviction. Not punishment before conviction.

Confederacy. Most will agree that it's a bad idea to celebrate the Confederacy. Most will agree that it is offensive to many African-Americans to display the Confederate battle flag (not to be confused with the official flag of the Confederate States of American, rarely seen).

That said, it also is a mistake to try to erase American history. A trip to Gettysburg last week brought a reminder of this. The Battle of Gettysburg, which occurred in early July 1863, is often called the "turning point" of the Civil War. And it was, although for somewhat different reasons than often understood.

These comments are not about the origins of the Civil War, but rather about the Confederacy's military strategy two years into the war. Gen. Robert E. Lee was invading the North for the second time. The idea was to persuade President Abraham Lincoln to open negotiations to end the war. Lee believed if he could capture Philadelphia, or better yet, occupy Washington, Lincoln would talk.

Hence, Lee was maneuvering his Army of Northern Virginia to threaten the North. Union Lt. Gen. George G. Meade was shadowing him, defending Washington.

Skipping over the battle's details, Lee understood on the night of July 3, after three days of fighting and tens of thousands of dead, that his invasion had failed. Meade, whose army had suffered grievous losses, didn't perceive the outcome as quickly and did not pursue vigorously.

So by the evening of July 3, knowing he had failed, Lee turned his army toward home and marched through the rain for Virginia, crossing the Potomac without serious interference. Lee knew the war was lost, later if not sooner.

This is American history. Barack Obama was right in describing slavery as American's "original sin." But history is the story of both the bad and the good. The Confederacy is a part of that history. Let's not try to erase it.

Reid Beveridge has covered politics in Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Delaware and Washington, D.C. He is now retired at Broadkill Beach.


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