Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Kingston Trio – "Tijuana Jail" (1959)

So here we are in the Tijuana jail
Ain't got no friends to go our bail
So here we'll stay ’cause we can't pay

Allowing an accused criminal to post bail rather than requiring him to stay in jail until his trial is an idea that the Anglo-Saxons came up with centuries ago.

Today, many want to radically reform the American bail system because they believe it unfairly discriminates against the poor.

A 2015 Slate article by a former public defender argues that when bail is set too high for a poor defendant to afford to pay it, prosecutors are dealt “an essentially unbeatable hand” because many (if not most) of those accused of relatively minor crimes will gladly plead guilty to avoid having to hang out in jail until their trial.

The criminal justice system would collapse under its own weight if fewer cases settled and more went to trail.  According to the author of the Slate article, over 365,000 criminal defendants were arraigned in New York City courts in 2013, but there were fewer than 700 cases that resulted in full-blown trials.  (In other words, 99.8% of all New York City criminal cases were disposed of prior to a verdict being reached in a trial.)

Some believe that keeping defendants incarcerated because they can’t afford bail violates the equal protection or due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  

That legal theory doesn’t hold water.  That’s because the Eighth Amendment prohibits “excessive” bail, which clearly implies that reasonable bail is fine and dandy under the Constitution.

Congress or state legislatures are free to change the bail system if they feel it is unfair.  But courts shouldn’t be ruling that bail requirements are unconstitutional because they are inherently discriminatory against the poor.

Click here to read more about the history of the cash bail system and the policy arguments against that system.

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I was arrested in 1971 in Galena, Kansas for having an open beer bottle in public.  (I didn’t.)

The bail for this offense was $20.  My friend and I didn’t have $20 between us, so he drove to his home and borrowed the cash from his mother to bail me out.

I was full of righteous indignation (not to mention 3.2% beer), and informed my jailer that I would be back to contest the validity of my arrest in court.  He nodded, and told me that was certainly my right.

But he then informed me that if I didn’t show up for my court date, the judge would not issue a warrant for my arrest but simply order the forfeiture of my bail.

If I did contest the charge, that fact would be a matter of public record, and likely show up in the pages of my hometown’s daily paper – which my parents read assiduously.

The penny finally dropped, and I forgot about returning to Galena to defend my innocence in court.

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The singer of “Tijuana Jail” – which was a #12 hit single for the Kingston Trio in 1959 – was arrested while illegally gambling in Tijuana, the Mexican city just south of San Diego that has always had a very shady reputation.  (We’re talking Las Vegas, Amsterdam, and old Times Square all rolled into one.)

He only needs $500 to bail himself out, but can’t raise a penny.  So there he’ll stay . . . ’cause he can’t pay.  

If you’re a fan of Mexican stereotypes, you’re going to love this song!

By the way . . . “Tijuana Jail” is not the only song on the Best of the Kingston Trio album about a man who had major-league legal problems in Mexico.  Tomorrow 2 or 3 lines will feature the other one. 

Here’s “Tijuana Jail”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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