Advocacy group says N.O. bail bondsmen routinely overcharge poor defendants

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NEW ORLEANS — A complaint filed today by the Southern Poverty Law Center claims that bail bondsmen in New Orleans are illegally overcharging defendants.

The nonprofit social justice group says over the past 12 years, 21 New Orleans bail bond companies have collectively overcharged almost $5 million for almost 50,000 defendants.

According to state law, bail bond companies are allowed to charge up to 12 percent of the amount of the bond set by a judge. If the defendant doesn’t show up for court, the defendant is on the hook for the remainder of the bond.

An investigation by SPLC found that the bail bond companies — and their associated insurance companies — routinely charge 13 percent. On average, defendants are paying $100 more than they should be paying, according to the complaint filed with the Louisiana Department of Insurance.

“The amount these companies overcharged their victims is staggering,” said Micah West, staff attorney for the SPLC. “Many defendants could have used that money to pay for rent, utilities, child care or other basic necessities but instead were forced to pad these companies’ bottom lines.
 
“These companies’ actions demonstrate why a person’s liberty should not be subject to profit. As more and more jurisdictions are realizing, justice is not served by making people pay money for their physical liberty.”
The SPLC is asking that bail bond companies and their underwriters stop overcharging and issue refunds to those who have paid them.
The complaint also asks the Louisiana Department of Insurance to impose the maximum penalty for each violation and to suspend or revoke the operating licenses of any company found to have overcharged defendants.