(Columbia) – Officials say no written protocol exists for setting bond for a person accused of a sex crime. It is purely discretionary. But those who work closely with victims say the $25,000 bond Chad Smith received seems very low.
Smith was arrested earlier this month and charged with criminal sexual conduct in the first degree. Authorities say the 35-year-old inappropriately touched a four-year-old.
Judge Earnest Kinard set Smith’s bond at $25,000 and he posted bail a few days later.
Veronica Swain Kunz says that amount seems low.
“Victims want to feel protected,” Kunz said of why victims usually desire higher bonds.
Kunz is baffled by the case-to-case disparities in bonds. Take for example, Smith’s case. While his bond was set at $25,000 for the charge of CSC in the first degree, another man accused of a similar crime received a much different bond. Eugene Payton is a high school ROTC instructor from Hanahan. This week Payton was charged with CSC in the second degree for having sex with a fifteen-year-old student. A different judge set Payton’s bond at $120,000.
“The diversity is just a mystery to me. It truly is,” Kunz said.
For the seven years she’s served as CEO of the SC Victim Assistance Network, she’s been to dozens of bond hearings. She says judges look at two things when setting a defendant’s bond: flight risk and threat to the community.
“In child sex assault cases, the judges at those points are not interested in whether or not it happened. They’re not interested in trying to determine whether or not the guy’s guilty,” Kunz said.
Over the phone Judge Kinard told News 19 that he checks a number of facts before setting a bond. He doesn’t remember Chad Smith’s case, but says if he thought bond should have been denied, he would have denied it. In all cases, Kinard says he tries to make the best decision he can.
The 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office says it is difficult to compare bonds for sex assault cases because the charges can greatly differ.
While defendants are always innocent until proven guilty, Kunz feels these cases need to be taken seriously in South Carolina.
“I do believe that judges need to send a message to the community that they don’t tolerate these people injuring children,” Kunz said.