A Criminal Enterprise

[New Orleans] Judge refuses to increase bond [from ZERO] for cardiologist’s son charged with killing pedestrian while driving drunk

Posted in Uncategorized by Robert Smith on September 29, 2009

This is the title (with my slight modifications) of a disturbing article by Gwen Filosa in today’s Times Picayune. Here is the background:

An Orleans Parish judge has refused to increase bond for a man charged with vehicular homicide,  despite prosecutors’ pleas that his family’s wealth and ties overseas make him a flight risk.

Abhishek BhansaliAbhishek Bhansali,  23,  a New Orleans native and son of a prominent cardiologist,  quickly bonded out of jail on his own recognizance after police arrested him March 21 for allegedly killing a pedestrian outside an Uptown club while drunkenly operating a 2008 BMW. He has pleaded innocent to the charge.

Michael Keith,  34,  a father of three who lived in Metairie and had served in the Marines,  was knocked 150 feet into the air while walking in the 3700 block of Tchoupitoulas Street. He was pronounced dead at the scene about 3 a.m.

Bhansali was speeding and had swerved into the wrong lane  —  driving against traffic  —  when he struck Keith,  a police report says. The driver was well over the legal limit for alcohol consumption,  registering .128 on a blood-alcohol test,  according to police. The legal limit in Louisiana is .08.

Magistrate Gerard Hansen on March 21 gave Bhansali,  a New York University business graduate who has worked on promotional campaigns for Absolut vodka,  the most lenient of bonds,  allowing a promise to return,  without financial risk.

This situation doesn’t need much commentary. Earlier this year, in Amite, Louisiana, a man accused of killing three people (in the course of the same incident) was released on 250,000 bond AND a GPS bracelet. No word on whether that guy’s dad is a wealthy cardiologist, but some meaningful bond amount and GPS seems to make a lot of sense.

Much the same disparity could be seen in Mississippi earlier this month.  Darlena Mickel, who allegedly caused the death of a toddler while driving intoxicated, had her bond set at 500,000. This despite the victim’s family (who are Mickel’s neighbors) testimony during the bond hearing that Mickel would  “lay down her life for that kid” and that the accident was “an accident.” Oh, and at the time of the bond hearing, the lead investigator “thought” that Mickel was intoxicated, but was awaiting a toxicology screen for confirmation. Mickel testified that she had no prior criminal record.

By contrast (though nowhere near the free bail in New Orleans), in July 2009, in Jackson, Mississippi, Karen Irby was released to her home on 250,000 bond (half the amount of Mickel’s) after this event (to be fair, Irby received extensive injuries, which might decrease flight risk):

Jackson police said Irby was driving a Mercedes at about 100 mph when it slammed into a truck carrying doctors Daniel Pogue and Lisa Dedousis. Both died. Irby and her husband, Stuart Irby, suffered extensive injuries.

Karen Irby had alcohol in her system at the time of the wreck Feb. 11 at about 10 p.m., records show.

Under the terms of her $250,000 bond, Irby is being held on house arrest and is being monitored electronically, according to court records.

Not even famous NFL players get away with this treatment. Last week, former Detroit Lion Charles Rogers, also 28, had bond set at 50,000 for misdemeanor drunk driving and  he didn’t kill anybody.

Now I’m not an expert on benchmark bond amounts, and I realize that different places and different judges feel differently about different crimes and are willing to take different risks re likelihood of flight, but here are a few guidelines I am sure of:

1. rich people should not receive a lower bond for a more aggravated version of the same crime that a poorer person commits

2. SOME bond, or at least a GPS device, is called for when a person is accused (especially on damn good probable cause) of killing another person while driving drunk.

But I thought these points were obvious.

P.S. I recommend reading the comments in the comment section at the end of the Times-Pic article linked above. Examples:

This is a family that has been good for New Orleans. People of this city (depending on who they knew) have always been given special treatment. Why should this family be any different? They have definitely earned it.
I’m not saying the victim’s family should not prevail in civil court .Just why should another life be ruined (even if it was by his own stupid mistake)?

and:

You cannot be serious, that he should get away with murder simply because his family has done good things for the city?!?! Driving with a blood alcohol content THAT far above the legal limit is NOT a “stupid mistake”, and I’m fairly certain you would not feel the same way if it was one of your loved ones who had been crossing the street.

and:

Please. Favored treatment happens every day. We’ve got police who killed or beat people on the streets as if nothing happened. However, bond is to insure that a suspect will appear in court. This guy has no reason to run. He will get lenient treatment like every drunk driver in Louisiana who kills or injures someone.

and:

Ben Willard is a disgrace to the bench. Anyone who has ever observed his court knows that he is totally incompetent and undoubtely is influence by the prestige of this family. I wonder if they contributed to his campaign. Justice is suppose to be blind not blindsided by people of wealth and position. Is it possible for New Orleans to ever be free of corruption and inappropriate actions of its leaders.

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2 Responses

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  1. Bidish J. Sarma said, on October 2, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Rob – this is a great post on an interesting topic. I had a few thoughts when I read it:
    *I wonder if public prominence can backfire in some instances? I’m specifically thinking about famous NFL players like Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress. I have a theory that there is a tipping-point where a person who is too rich-and-famous draws the ire of the criminal justice system (and the public generally). This guy seems to have flown under the radar.
    *As a once-and-always downtrodden fan of the Detroit Lions, I feel that it is my obligation to point out that Charles Rogers is not nearly as famous as he should’ve been. We wasted the second-overall pick in the 2003 Draft on him!
    *Maybe this is what happens when you live in New Orleans, but I couldn’t help but wonder how things would have been different for this driver if he were a young African American man.
    *I also wonder if people have identified race-of-the-victim effects outside the death penalty context? Has anyone isolated how the race of the victim influences the bond amount? This could be an interesting and revealing avenue for research on implicit racial bias.

  2. Moses Perez said, on October 6, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    Reading this article about my best friend, Michael Keith, who help rebuild this city as a construction worker and caring citizen – it disgusts me that this driver hit my friend all the way on the other side of Tchoupitoulas street and drug him 150 ft. on the hood of this 2008 BMW and the inertia of the car stopping caused Michael to fly off the vehicle and be hit again by the car.

    I served with Sgt. Michael Keith in the US Marine Corps. He was an outstanding Marine. Always doing the right things in life and taking care of other Marines who needed his help. The last time I checked we served our country to protect the rights granted by the US Constitution to every citizen. The Due Process Clause affords us the Liberties granted to our Court’s System and protects those Rights to each individual that becomes affiliated to that system by virtue of judicial infractions. Michael Keith no longer has the right to say how he feels about this matter. His Rights have been stripped from him because he is dead. He has no voice or feelings. His family and children have no father to raise them or a husband to bring flowers to his wife. I learned through his wife that Michael would always bring her a hand bag for her birthday – No bag this year…But the driver is free to roam the very places that Michael and I served to defend to our deaths, if it came to that in combat!

    I say this to the opposing family …that you have a killer in your family and you love that person for committing a serious crime. This was no accident….it was a human person that he killed and his name was Michael Keith.


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