ON TUESDAY, two brothers were arrested and charged with attempting to kidnap either J. Willard Marriott Sr. or Mrs. Marriott. One of them, who is said by the FBI to have been the mastermind behind the plot, was originally held in jail under $50,000 bond. He was released the next day when his bond was reduced to the equity in his house - about $20,000. The other, who is said to have had a substantially lesser part in the plot, originally was held in Baltimore under $25,000 bond. Although his bond has now been reduced to $100,000, he is unlikely to be able to get out of jail by raising so large an amount. So you had two judges in different jurisdiction looking at the same crime and fixing bail in such widely diverse ways that the principal suspect is out on the street, while an alleged accomplice remains behind bars. Something, it appears, is seriously amiss.
We are not inclined, at the moment, to second-guess Chief Judge William B. Bryant of the U. S. District Court here who reduced Paul D. Shepherd's bond from $50, 000 to the equity in his house. Judge Bryant ruled that Mr. Shepherd was entitled under the law to bail in an amount he could post. The judge added that he would not be 'hypocritical enough to set a bond he can't make.' And he refused to accept as justification for overriding other parts of the bond law an argument by the prosecutor that the case against the Shepherds is so strong that both men might be likely to flee if released from jail. But that argument appears to heve prevailed in Baltimore, where Billy Shepherd, the brother whose alleged involvement is substantially less, is being held under a bond he can't make.
The situation illustrates, once again, some of the difficulties that have arisen under the Bail Reform Act. Judges interpret it differently, and those differences not only make some prisoners believe they are being treated unjustly but also make the law itself look foolish. We do not know enough details of this particular case, and of the histories of the two brothers, to know whether they should be held in jail pending trial. But we do know that, unless there is something that hasn't been reported, the difference in the ways they have been treated makes no sense.
The Bail Reform Act was a major step forward in improving the system of justice. Its basic assumption - that defendants are entitled to be released from jail pending trial unless there is substantial reason to hold them - is clearly correct. But there have been enough cases, like this one, in which judicial interpretations have differed or in which questionable decisions have been made, to justify a review of the a ct by Congress.