Case of Repeat Offender Has Some Questioning Bail Reform

By Michael Hill

The case of 23-year-old Dawud Ward has many law enforcers across New Jersey shaking their heads in disbelief about bail reform that started Jan. 1.

Ward has five convictions for breaking and entering and grand larceny in Virginia. He came to New Jersey a couple years ago and has been charged with a long list of burglaries and under bail reform, he’s been in and out of court between new arrests for burglaries.

On Jan. 16, a Union County assistant prosecutor recommended Ward’s pre-trial release.

“We only ask that your honor abide by the recommendations of pre-trial services and that the defendant be released with the condition of monthly reporting,” said Union County Assistant Prosecutor Doreen Yanik.

“It looks like he has no prior failure to appears within the last two years, no prior violent convictions and new violent criminal activities? It looks like is no,” said Judge Richard Obuch.

But, it wasn’t long after that that investigators say Ward was at it again. This time in Linden on Ercama Street where police say he broke into a house with someone in it, made a terroristic threat that he would harm them with a gun and stole $8,000. The charges included robbery.

One police officer here volunteered his speculation that maybe judges released Ward not once but twice because burglary is considered a non-violent crime. But he says what happened here in Linden clearly shows an escalation to violence and maybe the system should give more weight to that potential.

Ward was back in a Union County court on Wednesday and the prosecution had a much different tune.

“That the defendant will pose a risk to any other person in the community and he’s failed to appear at his court appearance in Middlesex County,” said Union County Assistant Prosecutor Lisa Ann Cybulski.

Part of the challenge of bail reform appears to be communication among the counties.

The state issued this statement recognizing that: “Dawud Ward has been in jail since Feb. 23. [after an arrest in Irvington for burglary]. This afternoon, he was ordered detained until trial with no opportunity for bail. That would not have been possible under the old cash bail system which required all defendants be given the opportunity to post bail. Since Ward’s release, operational improvements have been made to the alert system for cross-county cases.”

One attorney who represents bail bond agents blasted the state for the handling of the Ward case.

“How do you explain to the poor victim of the home where he invaded and threatened people with violence. What do you say to them? Oh you know, it’s a poor guy, we’re going to release him on bail reform so he can go out and commit, break into someone else’s house,” said Richard Blender.

Tonight, Ward is in jail — among the 750 or so defendants held until trial since bail reform launched.