Accident Driver’s Bail Review Process Investigated

OCEAN CITY — There has been confusion and outrage over a local man, who plowed into the back of a passenger vehicle on Coastal Highway last month, leaving an 18-month-old girl clinging to life, has been released on bond twice, but while there was some latitude in the decisions, it appears standard protocol was followed.

On Dec. 16, Andre Kaczynski, 47, of Ocean Pines, rammed his pick-up truck into the back of a vehicle stopped at a traffic light on Coastal Highway at 142nd Street at a high rate of speed. The passenger car, occupied by Ann Marie DelRicco and her 18-month-old daughter Ava, was crumpled in the collision and emergency responders worked quickly to extricate them.

The child, Ava DelRicco, was flown to the Johns Hopkins Trauma Center in Baltimore where she remains this week. The investigation revealed an undisclosed amount of Phencyclidine (PCP) in Kaczynski’s vehicle. During a subsequent interview, Kaczynski admitted he was under the influence at the time of the crash and that he regularly uses the drug.

After Kaczynski’s release from the hospital, he was taken to the Public Safety Building where he was charged with driving under the influence of drugs, causing a life-threatening injury to a victim and possession of PCP. Kaczynski was taken before a District Court Commissioner for a bail hearing and was ordered held without bail.

After spending the weekend in jail, Kaczynski was taken before District Court Judge Gerald Purnell on Monday, Dec. 19 for a formal bail review hearing. After carefully reviewing a wide variety of factors, including the circumstances of the case, the defendant’s criminal record, his ties to the community, his employment history, his financial situation and a consideration of public safety among others, the judge set Kaczynski’s bond at $100,000, ordinarily a reasonable bond given all the factors.

Later that day, Kaczynski provided a percentage of the bond necessary to secure his release pending trial and was “bonded out.” Later that same week, Purnell signed a search and seizure warrant for Kaczynski’s Ocean Pines residence, his vehicle and his person. However, before the search and seizure warrant was executed, on Thursday, Dec. 22, Ocean City Police Detective Jeff Smith was conducting surveillance on Kaczynski and observed the suspect driving in an erratic and dangerous manner.

According to Smith’s report, he observed Kaczynski drive through two steady red signals and pass another vehicle on the right side of the roadway. Smith said in his report he had a hard time keeping Kaczynski in sight and eventually lost him because of the suspect’s erratic driving.

Around 6:30 p.m. that same day, police located Kaczynski in the area of 100th Street and detained him pursuant to the search warrant. Around 7 p.m., law enforcement officials executed the warrant at Kaczynski’s residence and turned up an undisclosed amount of PCP and marijuana along with paraphernalia.

Kaczynski was arrested and charged with possession of PCP and marijuana, just six days after the original accident, and again, he was taken before a District Court Commissioner, who ordered him held without bail pending a formal bail review hearing. Kaczynski was committed from Dec. 23 to Dec. 27 before a formal bail review hearing.

On Dec. 27, Kaczynski was taken before a visiting District Court judge for a formal bail review and the visiting judge ultimately decided to post his new bond at $25,000 given the facts in front of him.

That $25,000 bond for Kaczynski, given everything that had happened in the span of a week or 10 days, became the source of great consternation in the community, but it appears the visiting judge made his decision regarding Kaczynski’s bond on simple possession somewhat in a vacuum.

As per normal protocol, the visiting judge would have had before him the case at hand, along with Kaczynski’s prior record, his ties to the community, his employment record, his flight risk and others. However, the visiting judge would not necessarily have known the details of case just 11 days earlier. Given the information in front of him, a simple possession case, the visiting judge set bail at $25,000 and Kaczynski bonded out again.

In some cases, a prosecutor will sit in on bail reviews and bond hearings, especially when the case has considerable weight, in order to inform the judge of extenuating circumstances. Prosecutors do not sit in on every single bail review hearing as many are fairly routine. While the “hold without bail” ruling by the District Court Commissioner on a simple possession case should have likely triggered a red flag for the visiting judge, it is uncertain how much, if anything, he knew about the accident 11 days earlier.

It is unknown if a representative from the State’s Attorney’s Office attended Kaczynski’s second bail review on the simple possession arrest, but it appears unlikely given the outcome, along with the timing of the hearing in the midst of the holiday season. The State’s Attorney’s Office could not be reached for comment prior to deadline yesterday.

It is also appropriate in some cases for a police officer to testify at a bond hearing if he or she has knowledge pertinent to the case. For example, an officer with knowledge of Kaczynski driving erratically and dangerously again after being released on bond in the original case could have presented that information to a District Court judge at the second bond hearing, citing a public safety risk.

While he couldn’t comment on the Kaczynski case specifically, Purnell did offer a primer of sorts this week on the entire bail and bond process. He said shortly after an arrest, a defendant is taken before a District Court Commissioner, who has the discretion to set bail at any level based on the facts available. The District Court Commissioner’s ruling is temporary until the defendant is taken before a sitting District Court judge for a formal bail review. At that point, District Court judges weigh all of the information and make final rulings about bond levels. There are several full- and part-time District Court Commissioners and they are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

At any bond hearing, a District Court judge must make a determination based on a variety of factors including, in no particular order, the safety of the public and others, ties to the community, employment history, prior criminal record, how long he or she has lived at an address, financial situation and a prior history of failing to appear for court cases.

Purnell said the important aspect of a bail review or bond hearing is that it is not a time for a determination of guilt or innocence. Naturally, that occurs during the trial phase, so the purpose of the bail review or bond hearing is to determine if a defendant is a flight risk or if he or she poses an immediate threat to public safety. While the latter can certainly be said about Kaczynski, given the fact he was allegedly driving recklessly and erratically just days after causing a horrific accident, he was released again on just a $25,000 bond.

Purnell said all of the mitigating factors in a bond review in general, not specific to the ongoing Kaczynski case, are weighed carefully before making a determination and there is not a simple formula for setting bail.

“No two bond hearings are alike,” he said. “They’re like snowflakes. In general, I would only say there are a lot of factors that have to be weighed.”

Purnell said judges are provided with a wealth of information at bond hearings, but there are often pieces missing.

“There is a lot of information you do have, but in many cases, there are pieces to the puzzle missing,” he said. “You have to do a constant balancing act. You have to balance the public’s needs versus the defendant’s rights, which are based on long-established constitutional principles in place.”