ELKO – The bail bond business isn’t what it used to be, but Elko once again has a local agent ready to help people get out from behind bars.
Deborah Barnhardt recently opened 911 Bail Bonds, which is affiliated with a Las Vegas business of the same name. The last local company, Elko Bail Bonds, closed in 2021 after owner Pam Caldwell died.
Fewer people are being required to post bail following changes that were recently passed by the Nevada Legislature as a result of a state Supreme Court decision. Judges are now required to hold individual bail hearings to ensure someone isn’t being unfairly kept in custody due to poverty.
Still, Barnhart said many people who are arrested want to get out of jail fast, or their case requires high bail. If they pay her 15% of the bail amount she can write a bond that sets them free pending prosecution.
People are also reading…
Inmates are restricted in their access to the outside world once they have been booked into jail, so they must make the important decision of who to call.
“I get calls from people who think they are going to get arrested,” Barnhart said. “I get calls from their friends when their buddy is in the back seat of the cruiser.”
When someone calls her from the jail they often ask her to reach out to a relative or their employer for help. “They are the ones that are going to come and see me.” The preferred methods of payment are credit card, money order, or a mobile payment service.
Barnhart then files the necessary paperwork with Elko Justice Court and the inmate is released from jail. Often they have been arrested in one of Elko County’s border towns and they live in Utah or Idaho. Once they have been released on bond, Barnhart may help them get to the train station and on their way home.
After a case has been adjudicated, whatever amount the defendant has paid for a bond remains with the company as payment for its services. Only those who pay the full amount for cash bail will receive any of their money back, minus court fees and other charges.
Those who have enough cash or a credit card in their possession may bail themselves out by paying the full amount. Barnhart said people who are freed and then later get arrested for failing to appear in court are usually those who have paid their own bail instead of getting a bond.
Barnhart has issued a couple dozen bonds over the past six weeks but has yet to find herself in the position of “bounty hunter.” If someone skips their court appearance while out on a bond, she has six months to find them.
If someone manages to avoid arrest after six months, the bonding company is out whatever amount they paid. Barnhart said in cases with high bail amounts it is important to get collateral in order to recoup the loss.
“We encourage our people to contact us if they miss a court appearance because then we can start some paperwork to get them out of warrant status,” she said. They may get arrested and required to post cash bail to be released again.
Some people might even pay for a bond just to get out of jail quickly. Barnhart said she lets them know that if they wait to appear before a judge their amount could be reduced or they could even be released on their own recognizance.
Elko County Jail officials still post standard bail amounts on booking sheets when someone gets arrested, but that amount can be lowered significantly or eliminated entirely based on a judge’s determination from an individualized bail hearing.
The changes are the result of a 2019 Nevada Supreme Court ruling in the State vs. Jose Valdez-Jimenez, a Las Vegas man who challenged the longstanding cash bail system after he was arrested for burglary and held in jail for more than a year awaiting trial.
“In April 2020, the Nevada Supreme Court issued a historic ruling declaring that every person arrested in Nevada has a right to a thorough hearing before a court requires money for his or her release pretrial, and that if he or she cannot pay that amount the court’s order is equivalent to an order of detention and must meet exacting constitutional standards,” stated Civil Rights Corps.
Bail collected by Elko County has dropped significantly in recent years, beginning with pandemic-era policies that minimized the number of inmates being jailed for health reasons.
According to the Elko County Comptroller’s office, bail receipts topped $1 million in 2019 but dropped over the next three years to $637,954. That’s a decrease of 36%.
Bail collections so far in 2023 are rising, however.
Barnhart’s office at 532 Court St. is conveniently located across the street from the courthouse, where she has operated DPS of Northern Nevada since 2017. The document preparation service helps clients handle their own basic legal matters for less than an attorney would charge.
She also once owned The Hitching Post, a wedding service, next door. Sometimes she was tempted to tell her newlywed clients that she could also help them with a divorce.
Barnhart says she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force where she served 10 years as information/publication manager. She earned an Administration of Justice degree from Monterey Peninsula College in 2008 and moved to Elko in 2012.
She worked at the Elko County Juvenile Probation Office in 2013 before opening her businesses. She was also briefly a partner in the Underground bar.
In 2019 she was arrested on misdemeanor charges of practicing law without a license after signing some paperwork on behalf of a DPS client. She pleaded not guilty and received a deferred prosecution after being ordered to pay $2,000 to the nonprofit Nevada Legal Services.
In order to handle bail bonds, Barnhart said she completed a mandatory eight-hour bail agent class earlier this year. Through 911 Bail Bonds in Las Vegas she can now handle bonds up to $1 million.
While some out-of-town services are also available, Barnhart said her service is local, fast, and in-person. She takes calls 24-7 and can be reached at 775-385-2200.