Watchdog Report: How court orders to stay off the internet are enforced
In this era of seemingly inescapable access to the internet and social media, how do authorities enforce court orders for defendants to stay off those platforms?
"A little bit of it is the honor system," says defense attorney Dave Betras.
We asked him if it's harder now than ever for prosecutors to follow through on these orders, to which he said "yeah, but don't forget, if someone goes on the internet, they leave a digital footprint...the courts do have software available that can monitor or block certain websites," Betras said. "I had a client that was ordered to stay off the internet and he bought a burner phone and got caught and they'll revoke your bond if they catch you on the internet."
Prosecutors we talked to say that's meant to give defendants more incentive to follow those orders.
They work with the courts to make sure that happens - recommending conditions of bond that the court could choose or choose not to set.
But they add that many defendants aren't weighing risk versus reward.
"If our office gets word that any condition of bond has been violated, we have many options to pursue," says Mahoning County chief assistant prosecutor Gina DeGenova.
Those avenues include raising the dollar amount of the bond, along with placing the defendant on house arrest.
The bond, a period of release while the defendant awaits their next hearing, could also be revoked entirely.
"Then instead of a defendant being able to move somewhat freely among the community, he or she will find himself or herself in a jail cell," DeGenova said.
And facing a longer sentence if they're convicted.
Which is why prosecutors and defense lawyers agree - the risk of flouting the conditions of bond is not one worth taking.
"Defendants are expected to follow the law, they're expected to follow conditions of their bond," DeGenova said.
"When a court tells you to do something, that's not an invitation to do something, that's an order," adds Betras. "A court is the third branch of government and has the power to enforce its orders."