Let’s begin this week’s column with words of wisdom from one Henry Nelles.

Nelles was charged by police for hitting another man in the face with a cane and threatening to kill him while pointing a shotgun at his victim. The erstwhile Ferry Avenue resident explained to officers that he was just defending his home, telling them he was aware of his rights to “his castle.”

When officers explained he’d gone too far in his property defense, Nelles begged to disagree with their interpretation of the law, telling the patrolmen, “I’m ignorant, but not stupid.”

Would that be a distinction without a difference?

Let’s talk about bail, baby

With apologies to George Michael, it really is time for my friends on the bench to begin to explain to both police and the public what the rules are for setting bail in criminal cases.

Please spare me the law school lecture on “bail is to assure a defendant’s appearance at each and every step of the proceedings against him” and factors such as ties to the community, threat to the community, risk of flight and so on are the careful considerations that go into setting bail.

The real world tells a far different story.

Even a cursory look at the setting of bail in criminal cases at both the county and city level here frequently fails to show any consistent, rational set of standards or principles.

I’ve written before about the wild inequality in the setting of bail in driving while intoxicated cases, particularly in Niagara Falls City Court. Sometimes you can see a pattern of low or no bail depending on who the defense counsel in the case is. Other times, bail appears to be as random as a roll of the dice at Seneca Niagara Casino.

Take for example, two case involving the city’s newest judge, Diane Vitello.

On Friday, Vitello arraigned two DWI defendants. Briana Paoli was charged after she reportedly drove the wrong way down Ferry Avenue and then weaved in and out of her lane on 20th Street.

Bail: $500 cash or $1,000 property.

Stephen J. Voutour II, was charged with DWI and other traffic charges after he struck a tree on Hyde Park Boulevard so hard that he was ejected from the vehicle and his passenger suffered serious injuries.

Bail: Voutour was released on his own recognizance.

Vitello has also raised the hackles of Falls police for her handling of the case of Crystal Acosta.

Acosta was charged with second-degree assault, a felony, second-degree obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest after a violent encounter with cops in a Unity Park parking lot last Saturday night. She, in the words of one officer, “cold cocked” Officer Tom Arist as he pulled her off of other officers who were arresting her boyfriend.

According to police reports, Acosta punched Arist first in the left eye and then in the nose, causing injured that need medical treatment. Acosta freely admitted to attacking the officer.

Vitello allowed her to post $250 and get out of jail.

As an officer said, “Sends a nice message about the repercussions of hitting a cop.”

The new judge did, however, lower the bail hammer on Michael Hurst. Hurst, who is homeless and penniless, was given a $5,000 cash, $10,000 property bail for trying to shoplift two cases of beer from the Tops supermarket on Portage Road.

He did, admittedly, push a store manager, during the course of his crime.

For all the inequality issues that plague the courts here, few are worse than the indiscriminate and irrational application of bail.

Trending Video

Recommended for you